Warren Blumenfeld's Blog

Social Justice, Intersections in Forms of Social Oppression, Bullying Prevention

American Health Care Act & Translating Doublespeak to Realspeak

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On May 4, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives approved (218 to 213) their latest iteration of a bill to repeal and replace (translated as “slash and burn”) the Affordable Care Act (commonly known as “Obama Care”). Republicans touted their bill, called the “American Health Care Act,” as establishing “freedom of choice” to “freedom-loving” individuals while granting “enhanced rights” to states. Taking a victory lap following the vote, Vice President Pence thanked all the “principled lawmakers” for their support in the bill’s passage.

It never fails to amaze how the Snake Oil Sellers Party (a.k.a. Republicans) with their Snake Oil Seller-in-Chief, Donald Trump, hoodwink just enough people by engaging in the cynical deliberate distortion and contradiction in the meaning of words known as “doublespeak” to actually get elected to public office, promote policies, and pass legislation.

In translation from doublespeak to realspeak, “freedom of choice” means that with the bill’s elimination of a public mandate, individuals can choose not to purchase health care insurance, forgo preventative medicine, develop catastrophic ailments, and die in the street is they so choose, or they can go to a hospital emergency room for their primary care while other tax payers pick up the tab. Freedom!

“Enhanced rights” for states translates to granting states and insurance companies federal waivers to charge people with pre-existing medical conditions much higher rates than other customers, substantially increase prices for older people, and disregard the mandate to cover specified services like pregnancy care.

In addition, this “wonderful” bill for “freedom-loving Americans” will cut Medicaid programs for low-income people, while allowing states to enact work requirements on Medicaid recipients. Oh, and let us not forget that the bill eliminates tax increases on the rich and super-rich as well as on the health industry. Wonderful!

On the same day Republicans passed their draconian “health care” bill, Trump stood in the White House Rose Garden signing an executive order granting “Religious Freedom” to permit religious institutions with 501(c)(3) non-profit tax exempt status to endorse or oppose political candidates, thereby circumventing the long-standing Johnson Amendment named after then-U.S. Senator Lyndon B. Johnson to promote a separation of tax-exempt religions from influencing the political process. Trump’s executive order, however, allows no such exemptions for secular non-profits.

We need only look to Pence’s own principles as he thanked the “principled lawmakers” for their support. Not so very long ago when he was “serving” as governor of Indiana. Pence become an infamously-known political commodity by firing the first salvo in the war known as the “Religious Freedom Restoration” movement. He signed into law an act passed by his state legislature permitting businesses, based on their “deeply-held religious beliefs,” to refuse service to lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans people, and members of all other groups that the owners consider heretical to their beliefs, judgments, and precepts.

Since then, this expanding movement has gained support in state houses across the country as exemplified in Mississippi’s “religious freedom” law patterned after Indiana. And North Carolina passed its HB 2, the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act (double-doublespeak), which includes a section that prohibits trans people from entering a restroom facility that differs from the sex assigned to them on their birth certificate.

What “principles” are these? When translated into the language of realspeak, the “principle” holding up these “religious freedom” laws becomes clear, for it rests on a foundation of bigotry and discrimination.

Other translations disclose that Reagan’s “trickle-down economics” increased the wealth gap between the very rich and the remainder of the population, and enlarged the rate of people living in poverty since the only thing that trickled down were mere scraps. Donald Trump’s promised “high and beautiful wall” will drain billions of dollars from needed programs since “Mexico will [never] pay for it,” and if built, it will be ineffective in doing what Trump said it will do. Republican-sponsored “right-to-work” laws limit the powers and collective bargaining positions of labor unions, which ultimately disempower workers.

In the final analysis, leaders on the political and theocratic right, with their deployment of terms like “liberty” and “freedom” to advance their agendas perpetrate a vicious self-serving fraud on all of their constituents and congregants, except for the upper 10% in the ever-growing economic divide.

Their ultimate purpose is to shrink substantially the size of government; end governmental regulation of the private sector; privatize state and federal governmental services, industries, and institutions including schools; permanently incorporate across-the-board non-progressive marginal tax rates; ensure market driven unfettered “free market” economies, which ultimately, they argue, will ensure the individuals’ autonomy.

We must, however, all learn the language of doublespeak so we can translate it into realspeak. If the majority of Senators, though, go along with their House Republican colleagues and also pass the bill, and after the Snake-Oil Seller in Chief signs it, as millions of people loose their health care coverage to increasing premiums and deductibles, the doublespeak will become self-evident and reality will take hold.

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

May 4th, 2017 at 7:27 pm

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Republican Economics Takes from the Poor & Gives to the Rich

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President Trump and Paul Ryan publicized that their newest iteration to “repeal and replace” Obama Care (Affordable Care Act) will be released soon. In addition, at their recent press conference, Gary Cohn, Director of the National Economic Council, and Steve Mnuchin, Secretary of the Department of the Treasury, announced the Trump administration’s proposed “tax reform” plans, which they said they would work closely with the Congress to turn into legislation.

To fully understand the basis on which the Trump administration’s economic and other aspects of their legislative agendas are developed, it is necessary to realize the larger economic and political battles that have been constructed over competing ideologies separating not only individual office holders, but also differentiating political parties in the United States and also throughout the world concerning the structure and purpose of government itself.

One argument rests on the ideas of John Maynard Keynes, a British economist who theorized that economic growth and reduced unemployment can be supported through governmental fiscal policies including spending to stimulate the economy, adjusting interest rates, and placement of certain regulations on market economics.

Another and competing philosophy has come to be known as “neoliberalism,” which centers on a market-driven approach to economic and social policy, including such tenets as reducing the size of the national government and granting more control to state and local governments; severely reducing or ending governmental regulation over the private sector; privatization of governmental services, industries, and institutions including education, health care, and social welfare; permanent incorporation of across-the-board non-progressive marginal federal and state tax rates; and possibly most importantly, market driven and unfettered “free market” economics.

These “trickle-down” tenets taken together, claim those who favor neoliberal ideas, will ensure continual growth of the economy while protecting individual autonomy, liberty, and freedom.

Neoliberalism rests on the foundation of “meritocracy”: the notion that individuals are basically born onto a relatively level playing field, and that success or failure depends on the individual’s personal merit, motivation, intelligence, ambition, and abilities. Those who are, however, born or enter into difficult circumstances can choose to “pull themselves up by their boot straps,” and they can rise to the heights that their abilities and merit can take them. People, therefore, possess “personal responsibility” for their life’s course, and the government should not give them “stuff.”

Back in the 2012 U.S. presidential campaign and the CNN-Tea Party-sponsored Republican presidential candidates’ debate in Florida. (The former Congressional “Tea-Party Caucus” has since changed its name to the Congressional “Freedom Caucus.”) The debate facilitator, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, asked then presidential candidate Ron Paul the hypothetical question of what we as a society should do in the case of a 30-year-old man who chooses not to purchase health insurance and later develops a serious life-threatening disease. Before Paul had a chance to answer Blitzer’s question, a number of audience members shouted “Let him die. Let him die.”

During this current political climate, the lines seem demarcated with the Republicans generally taking more of a neoliberal stance and the Democrats asserting more of a Keynesian perspective. Though the neoliberal battle cry of “liberty” and “freedom” through “personal responsibility” sounds wonderful on the surface, what are the costs of this alleged “liberty” and “freedom”?

As singer/songwriter Kris Kristofferson declares in his legendary song, Me and Bobby McGee: “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”

How “free” are we as individuals and as a collective nation when the upper 10% of families controls approximately 75% percent of the accumulated wealth and 85 percent of the stocks and bonds, when the wealth gap between white families and families of color is enormous with the mean net worth of white families standing at $679,000, Latino/a families at $112,000, and black families at $95,000, and the Right’s agenda will only increase this enormous imbalance?

And how “free” are we as individuals and as a collective nation when before the Affordable Healthcare Act, 50 million people in our country went uninsured and their only form of health care was the hospital emergency room, which the remainder of the population paid because our government will not provide a single-payer health care system, but instead, we all must accept the exorbitant profit-motive insurance premium rates of private health care insurers?

How “free” are we as individuals and as a collective nation when governmental entitlement programs are cut or privatized, thereby eliminating the safety net support systems from our elders, our young people, people with disabilities, people who have suffered hard times, and others struggling to provide life’s basics?

How “free” are we as individuals and as a collective nation when the rights of women to control their bodies have increasingly and incessantly come under attack, and when doctors and others are intimidated and even killed at family planning clinics?

How “free” are we as individuals and as a collective nation when lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans people are still denied their basic human and civil rights in many states that are accorded to heterosexual and cisgender people on a daily basis in employment, housing, and public accommodations, and when they are vilified, scapegoated, attacked, and murdered, or when affirmative action programs to improve the chances of people of color and women are branded as nothing more than “reverse discrimination,” and steps are taken to abolish these strategies without replacing them with acceptable alternatives?

How “free” are we as individuals and as a collective nation when conservative politicians push for school vouchers to funnel public money into parochial institutions at the expense of public education, when forces are gathering to reintroduce prayer into the public schools? And how “free” are we as the political and theocratic right tear down the wall separating religion from entering into the affairs of government and push legislation based on their notions of “morality”?

How “free” are we as individuals and as a collective nation when politicians and business owners attempt to co-opt and decertify labor unions and eliminate collective bargaining?

How “free” are we as the National Rifle Association claims in its literature that “GUNS SAVE LIVES,” or when people can own and use assault rifles, and carry concealed firearms into bars, political rallies, and college and university campuses, and when the NRA and its many supporters fight to dismantle the meager governmental regulations further on weapons ownership and use?

How “free” are we as college and university tuition increases and governmental student assistance programs dry up, and students are left with gigantic debts following graduation or are pushed out entirely from the institutions of higher learning?

How “free” are we as individuals and as a collective nations when the Right passes legislation to build walls, to deport, and to further restrict immigration and social and educational services to young people, and breaks up families?

How “free” are we as individuals and as a collective nation when President Trump promises to abolish the Consumer Protection Agency, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Education, and other governmental agencies, as the U.S. Congress threatens to privatize our national parks, and to loosen environmental and consumer protections of all kinds, and when mining, oil, and lumber companies lobby to exploit the land further, and when they are granted enormous tax breaks and subsidies?

How “free” are we as individuals and as a collective nation when residents of the U.S., who represent approximately 5 percent of the world’s population, according to the Sierra Club’s Dave Tilford, “…uses one-third of the world’s paper, a quarter of the world’s oil, 23 percent of the coal, 27 percent of the aluminum, and 19 percent of the copper. Our per capita use of energy, metals, minerals, forest products, fish, grains, meat, and even fresh water dwarfs that of people living in the developing world”? And in spite of this, Trump has further dangerously deregulated environmental standards.

Ayn Rand, who has become the intellectual center for the economic/political/social philosophy of Libertarianism, which is closely aligned with neo-literalism, constructs a bifurcated world of one-dimensional characters in her novels. On one side, she presents the noble, rational, intelligent, creative, inventive, self-reliant heroes of industry, music and the arts, science, commerce, and banking who wage a noble battle for dignity, integrity, personal, and economic freedom, and for the profits of their labors within an unregulated “free market” Capitalist system.

On the other side, she portrays the “looters” represented by the followers, the led, the irrational, unintelligent, misguided, misinformed, the corrupt government bureaucrats who regulate and manipulate the economy to justify nationalizing the means of economic production, who confiscate personal property, who dole out welfare to the unentitled, the lazy, and in so doing, destroy personal incentive and motivation resulting in dependency. Welfare Ayn Rand terms “unearned rewards,” while she argues for a system of laissez-faire Capitalism separating economics and state.

Ragnar Danneskjöld, Ayn Rand’s so-called moral crusading pirate and symbol for “justice” in her novel Atlas Shrugged, quite tellingly expresses Ayn Rand’s true purpose (and by extension the actual effects of neo-liberalism) when she puts these words in the pirate’s mouth: “I’ve chosen a special mission of my own. I’m after a man whom I want to destroy. He died many centuries ago, but until the last trace of him is wiped out of men’s minds, we will not have a decent world to live in.”

Hank Rearden, one of Ayn Rand’s “righteous” industrialists asks: “What man?”

Danneskjöld replies: “Robin Hood….He was the man who robbed the rich and gave to the poor. Well, I’m the man who robs the poor and gives to the rich – or, to be exact, the man who robs the thieving poor and gives back to the productive rich.”

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).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

April 26th, 2017 at 3:13 pm

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Trump’s (Not)Huge (Not)Great (Not)Beautiful First 100 (Long Exhausting) Days

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“No administration has accomplished more in the first 90 days,” Trump boldly asserted to his rally audience in Kenosha, Wisconsin. But beneath this Trumpian hyperbole, what has he actually accomplished?

The White House website lists 28 bills signed by Trump. Though this is the highest since 1949, it stands well below the 76 signed by Roosevelt in 1933. As PolitiFact reports, however, many of Trump’s bills were “minor or housekeeping bills,” and “none met a longstanding political-science standard for ‘major bills’.”

After Senate leadership nuked the 60-vote threshold and effectively decimated the potential for cross-partisan consensus in the confirmation process for members of the highest and most impactful court in the land, the Senate confirmed Trump’s ultra-conservative nominee for the Supreme Court. This portends major consequences, not the least of which jeopardizes women’s reproductive freedoms, and the continued increases of corporate funding for political candidates and office holders.

What actions did Trump take to fulfill his campaign promise to restore the middle class? Well, for one thing, he eliminated the Obama era’s planned reduction of mortgage insurance premium rates, which Obama implemented to make home ownership more affordable. Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which virtually ensures the Chinese a lock on trade in the Asian-Pacific region.

In addition, while he complained about some sort of conspiratorial voter fraud that deprived him of garnering the popular vote in the last election, he has done nothing to curb the real voter suppression efforts by the Republican Party nationwide, nor has he pushed to restore the Voting Rights Act to its once effective version before the Supreme Court gutted its chief provisions.

At press conferences, Trump disrespects reporters. He demands them 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. He labeled the venerable New York Times as “failing,” and BuzzFeed as “a failing pile of garbage.” He also demanded the cast of “Hamilton” to issue an apology to the Vice President for being “rude.” So presidential!

Congressional oversight committees are investigating numerous scandals swirling throughout his administration placing Trump in a collision course with the Constitution regarding possible links to Russia in influencing the outcome of the past election and serious concerns over his business ventures and conflicts of interest.

Trump has consistently increased the portfolios of his daughter and son-in-law who have little to no actual experience in the positions they are expected to fill. And he reneged on a campaign promise by refusing to release his tax documents.

Since Trump’s inauguration, the White House website has removed reference to LGBT issues and policies and issues of climate change from the previous administration, and reversed an Obama-era executive order permitting trans students to use school facilities most closely aligning with their gender identities.

He has threatened to defund Planned Parenthood, the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities (which includes Big Bird), the National Institutes of Health including cancer research and HIV/AIDS projects, Women, Infants and Children (WIC) food assistance program and global food assistance programs, student Pell Grants, Community Development Block Grants, which funds Meals on Wheels, Low Income Home Energy Assistance program, plus AmeriCorps and SeniorCorps.

Trump has further terrorized immigrant communities with the threat of mass deportations, and warnings of stopping all federal funding to sanctuary cities. He was able to attain the firm and definitive commitment of Mexico never to fund a border wall.

He has cozied up to tyrannical autocrats in Russia, Egypt, and Turkey and expressed his admiration (while not actually endorsing) a crypto-fascist candidate in the French presidential elections, while offending longtime ally nations: Mexico, Australia, Sweden, France, and Britain. He supported Brexit, which could ultimately lead to the downfall of the European Union.

Trump continued his dedicated support for his fired alleged sexual predator friend at Fox News, and he is often seen in the close company of Wayne LaPierre and other officials of the National Rifle Association while he promises to roll back even the current meager regulations on firearms.

In his admission to “deconstruct the administrative state,” Trump’s chief political strategist, Steve Bannon, trumpeted the president’s strategy of placing into influential positions of power people intent on privatizing public education, eliminating environmental regulations, eradicating the Environmental Protection Agency, and deregulating hazardous and polluting fossil fuel industries like coal and oil.

Rather than “draining the swamp” as promised, Trump has restocked the deep and murky muck many times over.

Trump has given sway over the Department of Health and Human Services to someone with investment ties and potential conflicts of interest with pharmaceutical companies, medical devises, and health insurance companies. He appointed a person charged with administering public housing who has virtually no experience and initially no interest in serving. He chose an Attorney General whose background in the area of civil and human rights has been seriously questioned at the very least, and a Secretary of State with a long career connected to the oil and gas industry and with a track record of serving as an instrument of Vladimir Putin and Russian interests.

Trump has failed to nominate candidates for 85% of executive positions — literally hundreds of unfilled important government jobs that require Senate confirmation — leaving his administration seriously understaffed and the people of our country seriously underserved.

Trump’s pick for his first national security advisor, retired Army Lt. General Mike Flynn, in a 2010 military tribunal was convicted of having “inappropriately shared” classified information with foreign governments, and during the presidential campaign circulated false conspiracy theories. Flynn also served as a “foreign agent” to Turkey without declaring it until recently. Now he has been charged with breaking protocol and lying about it by negotiating with Russian government official on possible sanctions relief before Trump took office.

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 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.

Though he garnered some support from congressional representatives who had showed him little prior support after he launch and ineffective missile attack on a Syrian airbase, Trump has signaled no coherent international policies, and in particular, how his administration will handle the ever-growing and increasingly dangerous hotspots of North Korea, Syria and the entire Middle East, and Ukraine.

He brought the United States to the brink of nuclear war by sending a fleet of ships outside of North Korean waters, though it was later learned that Trump and his military leaders lost track of their ships, which were, in fact, over 3000 nautical miles away off the coast of Australia.

Trump has continued his saber rattling by asserting that he leaves open the option of declaring unilateral military action against North Korea. In this regard, he has proposed substantial increases in military spending while simultaneously making significant slashes in funding to the U.S. Department of State, our chief diplomatic peace-making executive arm of government.

Throughout the brief process after Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, released a plan to keep Trump’s promise of “repealing and replacing” Obama Care (The Affordable Care Act), 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.”

For someone who published (though didn’t actually write) the best-selling book, The Art of the Deal, Donald Trump should have had at least one major 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.

Trump’s recent approval rating stands at just 40%, an historic low for any President this early into their tenure. A whopping 54% disapprove of his job performance.

All of Trump’s commotions might seem humorous had it simply been a “Saturday Night Live” parody, but it’s not very funny — actually hugely, greatly, big league dangerous — in real time.

So while Trump has indeed been very active, he has accomplished very little during his first 100 days sitting in the Oval Office signing meaningless or destructive executive orders and minor pieces of legislation (and primarily playing golf and hob-knobbing at his luxury Florida resort, Mira Lago).

So the question remains: What has Trump and his administration actually done to “Make America Great Again”?

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

April 24th, 2017 at 5:56 pm

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STEM Education Essential but Not Enough to Sustain the Planet

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I have never forgotten one essential point my educational psychology professor related to my class back at San José State University when I was working toward my Secondary Education Teacher’s Certification in 1970. His point crystallized for me the intent of true and meaningful learning. My professor explained that the term “education” is derived from two Latin roots: “e,” meaning “out of,” and “ducere,” meaning “to lead” or “to draw.”

“Education,” he said, “is the process of drawing knowledge out of the student or leading the student toward knowledge, rather than putting or depositing information into what some educator’s perceive as the student’s waiting and docile mind”—what the Brazilian philosopher and educator Paulo Reglus Neves Freire termed “the banking system of education.”

I would ask, however, what effects has our age of “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top,” eras of standardization, corporatization, globalization, privatization, and deregulation of the educational, business, banking, and corporate sectors have on learning?

Standardized curriculum and testing were initially intended to gauge students’ progress, but have, unfortunately, metastasized into benchmarks for student advancement through the levels of education, for teacher accountability, as well as criteria for school funding from the government. The new Core Standards curriculum policies, rather than improving the educational outcomes of our students, have the potential of merely reinforcing and extending the failed so-called “neoliberal” policies of the past unless implemented with care and foresight.

The educational buzz word (or, rather, buzz acronym) is now STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math). Actually, since the time of Sputnik forward, we hear from the White House, to the school house, to the houses of industry that for us to achieve and maintain personal and national security, we must emphasize and rigorously promote STEM education in our schools and jobs in our economy.

As we understand in plant biology that stems cannot take root and grow unless planted in a fertile nutrient-abundant soil, likewise STEM fields cannot take root and grow unless planted in a fertile foundation of the social sciences, humanities, the arts, and all in the context and development of creativity and critical thinking skills.

According to the so-called “Allocation Theory” of education, schooling has turned into a status competition, which confers success on some and failure on others. Our schools have morphed into assembly-line factories transforming students into workers, and then sorting these workers into jobs commanded by industry and business. In so doing, educational institutions legitimize and maintain the social order (read as the status quo). Schools drive individuals to fill certain roles or positions in society, which are not always based on the individuals’ talents or interests.

For genuine learning to occur, for it to be transformational, it must be student centered—grounded on the shared experiences of the learners—and composed of at least two essential elements or domains: the “affective” (feelings) and the “cognitive” (informational). I design and implement my classes on a dialogic approach within a social justice framework in which students and educators cooperate in the process, whereby all are simultaneously the teacher and the learner. Educational psychologist Lev Vygotsky referred to this process as Obuchenie.

Education, as I have gained from Freire, is a path toward permanent liberation in which people became aware (conscientized) of their multiple positionalities (identity intersectionality), and through praxis (reflection and action), transform the world.

Educators, to be truly effective, must spend many years in self-reflection and must have a clear understanding of their motivations, strengths, limitations, “triggers,” and fears. They must thoroughly come to terms with their positions in the world in terms of their social identities: both the ways in which they are privileged as well as how they have been the targets of systemic inequities. They are not afraid of showing vulnerability and admitting when they are wrong or when they “don’t know.” They have a firm grasp of the content area, and they work well with and are accessible to students and their peers.

Realizing that students come from disparate backgrounds in terms of social identities, and that students learn in a variety of ways, educators must be “culturally competent,” and must be informed on the historical and cultural backgrounds of diverse student populations, pedagogical frameworks, theories of cognitive development, personality types, preferred sensory modes of learning, and others.

In the ideal classroom, the overriding climate is one of safety. This is not, however, the same as “comfort,” for very often, comfortable situations might feel fine, but are not necessarily of pedagogic value. “Safety” in this case refers to an environment where educators facilitate a learning process: one in which one can share openly without fear of retribution or blame; where one can travel to the outer limits of one’s “learning edges” in the knowledge that one will be supported and not left dangling.

The multicultural/social justice classroom poses exceptional challenges, or more importantly, opportunities to find creative solutions to address not only potential but actual student resistance to course materials and concepts, for we touch upon some very personal and potentially triggering issues related to identity, social inequities, and critical histories that for many reasons are not often investigated in other coursework.

To address potential student resistance, I structure and sequence my courses around Robert Kegan’s three-stage teaching model. In the initial stage, called “Confirmation,” the educator meets learners why they are, solicits ideas, beliefs, and knowledges, listens and legitimize, invites elaboration, and asks questions.

In stage II, “Contradiction,” educators stretch students’ existing views and experiential backgrounds by reframing issues, offering another perspective and new information, suggesting educational experiences (books, events), challenging stereotypes and previously held assumptions, offering a wider analysis, soliciting additional opinions from others, drawing out contradictions, and providing time and opportunity for exchange.

During stage III, called “Continuity,” educators continue the contradiction by giving constructive feedback, providing and soliciting a variety of perspectives, affording time for student reflection, giving praise for engaging in the process, and offering humor if and when appropriate.

Very often, a single semester course may not provide the educator sufficient time to fully appreciate the true growth or impact of their endeavors, but it can at least provide the opportunity for the planting of a seed, for overall, the role of the educator is to excite, to motivate, to develop or enhance in the student a continuing and life-long quest for learning.

A foundational element in critical multiculturalism/social justice is social reconstructionist or transformational education in which the educator’s role is to help prepare future citizens to reconstruct society to better serve the interests of all groups of people, and to transform society toward greater equity for all.

Christine Sleeter and Carl Grant emphasize four unique educational practices underpinning this philosophy: 1. Democracy is actively practiced in the schools, 2. Students learn to analyze institutional inequality in their own life circumstances, 3. Students learn to use social action skills, and 4. Bridges are built across various oppressed groups.

I require students to justify and backup all of their thoughts and “opinions.” Opinions without justification are just that—opinions. Stephen Brookfield discusses three inter-related phases in the process of critical thinking: discovering the assumptions that guide our decisions, actions, and choices (What do I think and why do I think of it the way I do?); checking the accuracy of these assumptions by exploring as many different perspectives, viewpoints, and sources as possible (Talking with others, taking courses, reading, researching, etc.); and taking informed decisions based on these researched assumptions (Informed decisions are based on evidence we can trust, can be explained to others, and have a good chance of achieving the effects we want).

Critical multiculturalism/social justice education is far more than my academic interest and focus for me. On a number of occasions, I have been asked the following question: “Are you a professor/educator, or are you a community organizer/activist, a writer, a theorist, or a researcher?” I always answer “Yes, all of the above,” for I view critical multiculturalism/social justice as providing a seamless connection to all these elements in my life. And I attempt to practice what I teach.

I have conducted all of my work in the service of social transformation. Without a basic knowledge of and experience in the humanities and the social sciences, students’ education remains incomplete, one that will not fully prepare them to live in a continually changing global environment. The traditional 3 Rs are indeed important, but we need to include the forth of “Respect” for cultural differences.

In addition to teaching the 3 Rs (Reading, wRiting, and ‘Rithmetic), we need to teach students how to investigate issues around Self Awareness: how to “Read” the Self and “Solve” social, emotional, and ethical problems. We must provide students with, what Jonathan Cohen terms, “Social, Emotional, Ethical, & Academic Education” (SEEAE).

Last semester, I asked the students in my University Educational Psychology class to answer the following question by raising their hand: “How many of you have a parent or guardian who wakes up in the morning thinking to themselves, ‘I have a job I love and I’m looking forward to going to work?” Of the approximately 100 students in class that day, exactly seven raised their hands.

I usually still answer that question in the affirmative. I cannot think of any other profession where one reads and discusses ideas with others and (sort of) gets paid for it. I love the opportunities for learning and engagement that I have as a professor.

I see how “education” and “schooling,” however, as currently constituted contradicting its own methodologies by primarily focusing on grades in the service of eventual jobs and economic security for the educational consumer, and in so doing, we have diminished in many of our students the joy of learning for learning sake, and learning for the sake of understanding themselves and the world around them.

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

April 22nd, 2017 at 1:40 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Cyberbullying and Effects on LGBTQ Youth

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Ryan Patrick Halligan was born in Poughkeepsie, New York in 1990. His parents described him as a shy, sensitive, and affectionate young child with an infectious smile that early on drew people close. Before he entered school, his parents had concerns about his speech, language, and motor skills development, and from pre-school through fourth grade, they enrolled Ryan in special education services.

The family moved to Essex Junction, Vermont, where, by the fifth grade, he encountered face-to-face bullying on a regular basis in his school. Rumors soon circulated throughout the school that Ryan was gay. By middle school, his classmates continually teased and harassed him for having a learning disability and for allegedly being gay. They soon extended their taunts against Ryan into cyberspace.

Ryan displayed many of the symptoms of youth targeted by cyberbullying: he spent long hours on his computer, and he was secretive regarding his interactions on communication and information technologies. His parents saw him manifest several changes in his behavior: he increasingly lacked interest in engaging in social activities that included his peers, and he exhibited a pronounced change in his overall attitude, his appearance, and his habits.

On October 7, 2003, feeling that he could no longer live with the constant and escalating abuse, Ryan Patrick Halligan took his life. He was 13 years old.

The American Psychological Association passed a resolution calling on educational, governmental, business, and funding agencies to address issues of face-to-face and cyberbullying. In the resolution, they particularly addressed acts of harassment “about race, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity.” In addition, the resolution specifically emphasized the high rate of bullying around issues of sexual orientation and disability:

“WHEREAS children and youth with disabilities and children and youth who are lesbian, gay, or transgender, or who are perceived to be so may be at particularly high risk of being bullied by their peers.”

While schoolyard bullying and harassment have long been problems for young people in our nation’s schools, the advent of advanced information and communication technologies have now allowed this abusive and destructive practice to extend to virtually all aspects of a person’s life.

What has come to be called “cyberbullying,” like “face-to-face bullying” (also termed “real life” bullying), involves deliberate and repeated aggressive and hostile behaviors by an individual or group of individuals intended to humiliate, harm, and control another individual or group of individuals of lesser power or social status. Cyberbullying involves information and communication technologies such as Internet web sites, e-mail, chat rooms, mobile phone and pager text messaging, and instant messaging.

In the first detailed study of its kind to address incidents of cyberbullying on LGBT youth, Blumenfeld and Cooper found that 52% of LGBT youth between the ages of 11 to 22 reported having been the targets of cyberbullying several times; 54% had been bullied on their sexual identity and 37% had been bullied on their gender identity or expression in the past 30 days alone. Cyberbullying attacks included electronic distribution of humiliating photos, dissemination of false or private information, or targeting people in cruel online polls, among many other means of attack.

The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), in its 2015   National School Climate Survey investigating school found that 55.5% of LGBT students across the country felt unsafe at school based on their sexual orientation, and 37.8% felt unsafe because of their gender expression. About one-third of LGBT students missed at least one full day of classes in the past month over safety concerns.

GLSEN released  in 2013 its first “Out Online: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth” finding LGBT youth almost three times (42% vs. 15%) more likely to be bullied or harassed online than heterosexual students and twice as likely to have been cyberbullied via text messaging (27% vs. 13%). And 32% of LGBT respondents were sexually harassed online during the past year. This was four times as many as their non-LGBT peers. And 25% of LGBT students were sexually harassed via text message during the past year.

“Online victimization contributed to negative self-esteem and higher depression. Youth who experienced bullying and harassment both in person as well as online or via text message reported lower grade point averages, lower self-esteem, and higher levels of depression than youth who were bullied only in person, only online, or via text message, or not at all.”

In the most recent National Civility Survey (KRC Research, 2017), a record high of 69% of U.S. residents across the spectrum of age believe that their country has “a major civility problem”: 75% perceive that incivility has reached “crisis levels” in modern life in terms of personal relationships, government, business, media, and on-line. And 56% believe that it will get even worse in the next ten years.

We must not view bullying and harassment as simply youth problems and behaviors, but rather, investigate the contexts in which bullying “trickles down” from the larger society and is reproduced within the schools. Young people, through the process of “social learning,” often acquire bullying and harassing attitudes and behaviors, and they also often learn the socially sanctioned targets for their aggression.

If we are ever to interrupt the vicious cycle of bullying and cyberbully in our schools and in our society at large, one necessary step in the process is to make unacceptable abusive behaviors by adults.

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), Editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

April 17th, 2017 at 2:20 pm

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The Time to Investigate Christian Privilege Has Come

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As spring peers forth from the soil and tree limbs, the annual Easter Egg Roll, sponsored by the President of the United States and the First Lady, thrills elementary and pre-school age children each year.

Also, in school classrooms throughout the country, students and their teachers dip hardboiled eggs into brightly colored dyes, and display Easter eggs of pink, yellow, blue, green, red, and lavender. Some students adhere bunny, baby chick, rainbow, or angel decals to their Easter eggs. Some paint flowers or clouds; some sprinkle glitter of silver or gold.

An excitement wafts through the classroom as students imagine sharing their treasures with parents or caregivers, as teachers reward the good work of their charges with delicious gleaming chocolate bunnies. A palpable excitement fills the air in anticipation of Easter Sunday as children adorn classroom bulletin boards with images of the season.

Many people (most likely the majority) consider these events, played out in Washington, DC and in some schools in the United States, as normal, appropriate, and joyous seasonal activities. Upon critical reflection, however, others experience them as examples of institutional (governmental and educational) (re)enforcements of dominant Christian standards and what is referred to as “Christian privilege,” though presented in presumably secularized forms.

They represent some of the ways in which the dominant group (in this instance, Christians) reiterates its values and practices while marginalizing and subordinating those who do not adhere to Christian faith traditions.

As an educator of pre-service teachers in the university, I am gratified to find that an ever-increasing number of Colleges of Education include instruction on issues of power and privilege related to our socially constructed identities. We know that teachers must thoroughly come to terms with their social positions (“positionalities”), the intersectional ways in which they are privileged as well as how they have been the targets of systemic inequities, and the impact this makes on their students.

Depending on our multiple identities, society grants us simultaneously a great array of privileges while marginalizing us based solely on these identities. Inspired by Peggy McIntosh’s pioneering investigations of white and male privilege, we can understand dominant group privilege as constituting a seemingly invisible, unearned, and largely unacknowledged array of benefits accorded to members of dominant groups, with which they often unconsciously walk through life as if effortlessly carrying a knapsack tossed over their shoulders.

A number of researchers have developed extensive lists (white, male, heterosexual, cisgender (“traditional” gender presentation), able-bodiedChristian, adult, age, social class, physical size) charting the benefits and privileges accorded to individuals within differing dominant identity categories.

The concept of “hegemony” describes the ways in which dominant groups successfully disseminate dominant social realities and social visions in a manner accepted as common sense, as “normal,” as universal, and as representing part of the natural order, even at times by those who are marginalized, disempowered, or rendered invisible by it.

Christian hegemony can be defined as the overarching system of advantages bestowed on Christians. It is the institutionalization of a Christian norm or standard, which establishes and perpetuates the notion that all people are or should be Christian, thereby privileging Christians and Christianity, and excluding the needs, concerns, religious cultural practices, and life experiences of people who are not Christian. At times subtle and often overt, Christian hegemony is oppression by neglect, omission, erasure, and distortion, and also by design and intent.

I caution us, though, not to conceptualize dominant group privilege monolithically, for we must factor into the equation issues of context and intersectionality of identities. As there is a spectrum of Christian denominations and traditions, for example, so too is there a hierarchy or continuum of Christian privilege based on 1) historical factors, 2) numbers of practitioners, and 3) degrees of social power. I contend, therefore, that we need to view forms of privilege along a continuum or spectrum rather than conceiving them as binary opposites.

As educators raise issues of dominant group privilege, and pose questions of power and domination in our classes and in the larger society, invariably we experience resistance. I understand this only too well, not only as an educator but also in my personal development.

I can remember when I was confronted in a workshop on issues around white and male privilege. I immediately reacted that as a gay man, the heterosexism I experience sufficiently trumped any male privilege I might have otherwise, and my European-heritage Jewish identity (with anti-Semitism as a form of racism) eliminated any white privilege I might have otherwise.

Though I was rather slow to come to consciousness how my defense mechanisms prevented me from accepting and taking responsibility for the unearned benefits granted me by my social identities, over the years, I have understood the process from denial to acceptance to committing to ensure equity among people of all social identities. Raising issues of privilege remain difficult, but necessary if our country is to progress and redress the mistakes of the past.

I have researched and written much on the topic of Christian privilege, and I am sometimes asked to present my research and lead discussions on the topic in college classrooms and at conferences. Last year, while still teaching at my Midwestern university, one of my colleagues in the Social Justice concentration asked me to lead a discussion in her graduate “Pedagogy of Oppression” class.

As I went over my PowerPoint presentation, and engaged students in an animated discussion, I noticed two students in particular, bodies rigid, arms folded across their chests, a sneer on their faces. As we progressed, one of the students, an African American man, suddenly changed his expression. His body relaxed. The facial sneer softened, and a shiny glint emanated from his eyes.

A few minutes later, he raised his hand and said:

“You know, Dr. Blumenfeld, up to this point in the discussion, I found the whole topic of Christian privilege to be unbelievable and frustrating. As a black man in the United States, before I came into this room today, I saw myself as having no social identity privilege. But then it occurred to me, for the first time I now understand what white people feel – including their rejection of the topic and their denial – whenever I bring up and teach about white privilege. That’s exactly how I felt about Christian privilege. Now I get it.”

By challenging dominant group privilege and hegemony, we do not condemn or even contest Christianity, or whiteness, or maleness, or heterosexuality, or physical or mental abilities, and so on per se, but, instead, we are interrogating the unearned and automatic privileges that come with these social identities.

Though we can never fully quantify privilege, by discarding the bifurcated binary perspective while charting privilege along a continuum taking into account context and identity intersectionality, we will come to a fuller and deeper awareness of issues of power and privilege, marginalization, and oppression as we work toward a more socially just society and world.

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), Editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

April 16th, 2017 at 8:39 am

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Trump Administration Resistance to Learning and Its Deadly Consequences

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“We did not use chemical weapons in World War II. You had someone as despicable as Hitler who did not even sink to using chemical weapons. If you are Russia, ask yourself, is [Syria] a country and regime that you want to align yourself with?”

When reporters asked White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer to clarify his remarks at his press briefing, Spicer only stuck his foot deeper into the muck by asserting:

“When it comes to sarin gas, [Hitler] was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing,” and he went on to refer to Nazi concentration camps as “Holocaust centers.”

By the 8th grade, most students learn that the Nazis gassed (with hydrogen cyanide in the form of Zyklon B) countless numbers of Jews and others they defined as undesirables and less-than human. And yes, Mr. Spicer, many of those gassed were Hitler’s “own” German people!

In addition to the concentration camp gas chambers, which murdered millions, the Nazis used gas vans, which they referred to as “Gaswagen” – a mobile vehicle used as a gas chamber. It had an air-tight compartment into which exhaust fumes were pumped while the engine was running. It took victims on average 20 minutes to die a torturous death by poisoning and suffocation.

After releasing three twisted and confusing written statements attempting to further clarify what he meant at the press briefing, Spicer finally admitted to his blunder and gave a full-throated apology.

Not only was Spicer’s statement on his perceived differences between Adolph Hitler and Bashar al-Assad insensitive and offensive, and because it was delivered during the Jewish week of Passover – the historic journey of the ancient Jews’ deliverance from slavery – but possibly even more importantly, it represents an administration known to run hard and lose with (alternative) facts.

Donald Trump admitted to The Washington Post that he does not read: “I never have. I’m always busy doing a lot. Now I’m more busy, I guess, than ever before.”

Rather than concern himself with the “Three R-s”, Trump relies on the “Four I-s” (Impulsiveness, Instinctiveness, and Intuition in his I-first world view) when making decisions. He has never read a biography of any of our past presidents, and his grasp of U.S. and world history is slight at best.

Continuing, he said he has no need to read extensively because he arrives at the right decisions “with very little knowledge other than the knowledge I [already] had, plus the words ‘common sense,’ because I have a lot of common sense, and I have a lot of business ability.”

Trump’s deemphasis on education is reflected in his choice of highly controversial billionaire Betsy DeVos to head the U.S. Department of Education, who has in the past advocated for a voucher system that would divert funding from public schools to private and parochial schools, and give greater emphasis on for-profit charter schools. Recently, she has been charged with plagiarism. At her Senate confirmation hearings, she was roundly criticized for her lack of even basic knowledge on teaching and pedagogical issues that college sophomore education major would know.

While knowledge is power, ignorance is dangerous, even deadly for those with enormous power.

“Now, I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.”

Wrong, Mr. President, everyone who actually studied the issue knew perfectly well how complex and complicated it is.

Before meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping this month, Trump assumed that China could easily restrict North Korea’s nuclear program. But Trump told The Wall Street Journal:

“After listening [to Xi Jinping] for 10 minutes, I realized it’s not so easy. I felt pretty strongly that they had a tremendous power [over] North Korea. … But it’s not what you would think.”

Well, again Mr. President, it may not be what YOU would think, but people who have studied the history of Chinese-North Korean relations know how detailed and complex is their relationship. If you had not depended on the Chinese leader providing you with a crash history course and, instead, done your homework – reading and briefings with experts in the field of history and international affairs – you might have been better prepared to fulfill your constitutional duties.

Instead, your lack of knowledge and little apparent interest in learning even the fundamentals surrounding the issues in domestic and world affairs that you must tackle, combined with your enormous power imperils not only your country, but nations across the globe.

So, what kind of role model does this president give young people on the value of inquiry, of learning, and of education itself?

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

April 13th, 2017 at 10:27 am

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Thinking and Acting Globally for LGBTQ Equality

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“It is a violation of human rights when people are beaten or killed because of their sexual orientation, or because they do not conform to cultural norms about how men and women should look or behave. It is a violation of human rights when governments declare it illegal to be gay, or allow those who harm gay people to go unpunished.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, United Nations International Human Rights Day, 6 December 2011, Geneva, Switzerland.

There are moments in history when conditions come together to create the impetus for great social change. Many historians and activists place the beginning of the modern movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBT) equality at the Stonewall Inn, a small bar frequented by trans people, lesbians, bisexuals, gay men, students, and others of all races located at 53 Christopher Street in New York City’s Greenwich Village.

At approximately one-twenty on the morning of June 28, 1969, New York City Police officers conducted a routine raid on the bar on the charge that the owners had been selling alcohol without a license. Feeling they had been harassed far too long, people challenged police officers on this morning lasting with varying intensity over the next five nights by flinging bottles, rocks, bricks, trash cans, and parking meters used at battering rams.

Even before these historic events, an action preceded Stonewall by nearly three years, and should more likely be considered as the founding event for the modern LGBTQ movement. In August 1966, at Gene Compton’s Cafeteria, in what is known as the Tenderloin District in San Francisco, trans people and gay sex workers joined in fighting police harassment and oppression. Police, conducting one of their numerous raids, entered Compton’s and began physically harassing the clientele.

This time, however, people fought back by hurling coffee at the officers and heaving cups, dishes, and trays around the cafeteria. Police retreated outside as customers smashed windows. Over the course of the next night, people gathered to picket the cafeteria, which refused to allow trans people back inside.

Out of the ashes of Compton’s Cafeteria and the Stonewall Inn, people, primarily young, formed a number of militant groups. One of the first was the Gay Liberation Front (GLF). GLF was not a formalized organization per se, but rather a series of small groups across the U.S. and other countries. GLF meetings took place in people’s living rooms, basements in houses of worship, and storefronts. Members insisted on the freedom to explore new ways of living as part of a radical project of social transformation.

Today throughout the world, in large cities and small towns alike, we set aside the month of June to commemorate the historic rebellion at the Stonewall Inn, with demonstrations of pride, joy, and solidarity. Revelers march down boulevards in brightly-colored outfits of all stripes and shades announcing their entry, their solidarity, their feisty outrage, and yes, their pride.

As amazing and inspiring as our march toward equality has come over the years relative to where we began, this march still has miles and miles to go and it has not extended universally.

Location, Location, Location

In real estate, three major priorities for people with the means and freedoms of choice in the rental, purchase, or sale of residence are often 1) location, 2) location, and 3) location. In terms of social identities and forms of oppression as well, geographic location and the “location” (intersection) of our identities and forms of oppression largely impact our lives individually and collectively.

Customs, values, mores, laws, policies, court decisions, and other factors vary by country and even by region within the same country. In some countries around the world, people have fought long and difficult battles to win the right to marry, to have employment security, to live where they choose and can afford, to inherit property, to visit a partner in the hospital, to serve openly in the military, to conceive, adopt, and raise children, to walk down the street in safety, to have support on anti-bullying efforts in schools and in the workplace, and other benefits that many heterosexual and cisgender people routinely take for granted.

A nativist, nationalist, xenophobic, right-wing political tide has grown throughout Europe and the United States founded on the principle to “protect” borders in keeping out the “other” by separating from former alliances and by building walls, both figuratively and literally. In addition, repressive regimes around the world currently and throughout history have scapegoated, oppressed, and murdered the “other,” including LGBTQ people.

In Eastern Europe, elected officials in the Russian Federation, as well as in several areas of the Ukraine, Lithuania, Moldova, and Hungary have either passed or have attempted to shepherd through the legislative pipelines several bills (so-called “Anti-Gay Propaganda” laws) that further restrict human rights of LGBTQ people and ban informational efforts to educate and raise LGBTQ visibility and awareness.

While the Russian Federation decriminalized same-sex sexual activity between consenting adults in private in 1993, same-sex couples and households are not accorded the rights and benefits given to heterosexual couples, and no anti-discrimination laws currently protect individuals based on sexual identity and gender identity and expression.

Reports have surface of detention camps in the Republic of Chechnya holding men accused of being gay where they are beaten and tortured with electric shocks. Some of the men died of the injuries inflicted upon them.

Homosexuality is still punishable by death in at least 12 countries. Since the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979, for example, which replaced the Shah with an orthodox Shiite theocracy, many segments of the population have experienced repression under Iranian Sharia law — of the many segments, in particular, include Iran’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans (LGBT) inhabitants. The Iranian regime has executed an estimated 4000 – 6000 primarily men accused of engaging in same-sex sexuality.

Nigerian federal law mandates imprisonment for men convicted of the “felony” of homosexuality, and some Nigerian states have imposed the death penalty by stoning. The government also declared it illegal for homosexuals to hold meetings or form clubs or organizations.

Trans people have exposed the truth regarding this fabrication we call “gender roles” and the rigidity of gender identity as social constructions, which societies ascribes to individuals as it assigns us a sex at birth. With the label “female” assigned at birth, most societies force us to follow its “feminine script,” and with “male” assigned at birth, we are handed our “masculine” script to act out.

Members of trans communities often suffer the consequences of other truth tellers of the past. Nearly every two days, a person is killed somewhere in the world for expressing gender nonconformity. The clear majority of murders are of trans women of color.

Murderers of trans people react in extreme and fanatical ways at the direction of the larger coercive societal battalions bent on destroying all signs of gender transgression in young and old alike in the maintenance of these gender scripts.

We must not and cannot dismiss the murders of trans people as only the actions of a few disturbed and sadistic individuals, for oppression exists on multiple levels in multiple forms. The killers live in societies that subtly and not-so-subtly promote intolerance, spreads stereotypes, imposes stigmata, and perpetuates violence and the threat of violence. These incidents of murder must be understood as symptoms of larger systemic national norms.

During her speech at the United Nation, Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton committed herself to and spoke for people of good will everywhere when she said:

“To LGBT men and women worldwide: Wherever you live and whatever your circumstances…please know that you are not alone.”

It is up to all of us to make her promise a reality by taking to heart what the truism advises, “Think globally, and act locally.” I would add that we must act globally as well.

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-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

April 12th, 2017 at 10:15 am

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Trump Downloads (Temporary) Human Empathy App

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Born without software responsible for empathy, installed standard in most human operating systems, Donald Trump seems to have downloaded at least the temporary version of the human empathy app this past week.

He did this after witnessing the horrendous and heartbreaking pictures of children and little babies struggling to breathe as others succumbed to torturous deaths under the effects of sarin gas dropped from the skies by Syria’s brutal dictator, Bashar al-Assad (who likewise was born without essential human software).

Making an exception to his “Me First” (which he refers to as “America First”) policy, and contradicting his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s recent declaration that the Syrian people alone will decide the fate of Assad, Trump chose to bomb the airport used by Syrian military aircraft to deliver the toxic agents of mass carnage. Several leaders abroad and political heads across the political spectrum in his own country have come out in provisional support for the President’s action.

While history will determine the efficacy and consequences of Trump’s decision, why did it take choking and dying babies to ignite Trump’s humanity?

He showed no perceptible empathy among images of drowned children and babies washing up upon Mediterranean shores after their rickety boats tossed them and their families into the cold sea as they attempted to flee their war-torn counties. In two consecutive White House Executive Orders, he banned Syrian refugees, in fact, refugees from most Muslim-majority countries, from immigrating to the United States.

Why hasn’t the pictures of the thousands of diseased and impoverished faces of people forced to live in refugee camps moved this President to act with empathy rather than with apparent contempt?

Additionally, President Trump needs to understand that sarin gas is not the only substance toxic to children and other living things.

In his brief time in office, 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.

In his recent wide-ranging executive order, he further reversed Obama-era environmental protections by reducing governmental regulations on the coal and oil industries that were intended to curb greenhouse gases. Specifically, Trump repealed Obama’s moratorium on coal mining on federal lands and on coal-fueled power plants, and advised federal agencies to “identify all regulations, all rules, all policies…that serve as obstacles and impediments to American energy independence.”

Trump supported the so-called Trump/Ryan (Tryan) “American Health Care Act” proposal that, if passed, would have cut millions of people, including children and little babies, from affordable health care insurance.

Hopefully the new human empathy app Trump downloaded onto his psychic system functions more than simply temporarily like the self-destructing one-time-only message giving orders to the agents in the “Mission Impossible” series of movies and classic TV.

Maybe we will see a kinder and gentler Donald J. Trump, but I won’t hold my breath even as his presidency portends an increasingly more toxic environment, literally and figuratively.

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

April 7th, 2017 at 6:12 pm

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Homophobia “With God on Our Side”

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But now we got weapons,

Of the chemical dust.

If fire them we’re forced to,

Then fire them we must.

One push of the button

And a shot the world wide,

And you never ask questions

When God’s on your side.

-Bob Dylan, “With God on Our Side”

I gave a presentation on the topic of homophobia at a university in New York City. I talked about my own experiences as the target of harassment and abuse growing up gay, and I addressed my book, Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price. In the book I argue that everyone, regardless of their actual sexual identity is hurt by homophobia and, therefore, it is in everyone’s self-interest to work to reduce and ultimately eliminate this very real and insidious form of oppression.

Following my presentation, two students came up to me — one young woman and one young man — to continue the discussion. The woman began by telling me:

“I’m really sad to hear about the abuse that you and others have received because you are gay or lesbian. I am here to tell you that I have a way to prevent that from ever happening to you again. I believe that Jesus Christ can help you. If you ask Jesus and pray hard, Jesus will save you from your homosexual feelings and help you to achieve the life that is meant for you, in his service, as a happy and healthy heterosexual. This will save you from the abuse you have suffered.”

My response: “So, let me see if I understand you: If I accept Jesus in my life and ask him to help me become heterosexual, then I won’t suffer from homophobia any longer? So, to be supported in society, I must change who I am and conform to the dominant standards of society? So, for people like yourself to truly support me, I must become like you? While I understand that you are offering me, in your mind, a gift, do you not see how this in itself is a form of homophobia, a form of oppression? Do you not see how this perpetuates oppression?”

She responded with surprise and claimed that she knew the “truth,” and that if accepted, could grant me salvation and happiness, but if rejected, would result in continued earthly and eventual eternal torment.

We continued our dialogue for more than one hour, and we ended cordially. All the while, the young man had been closely looking on and listening to the young woman and my discussion. Then the young man spoke to me.

He asked: “Professor Blumenfeld, you stated that you are a writer, that you had published a number of articles and books. Is this correct?”

“Yes,” I responded.

“Okay, then,” he continued. “You know that in the writing process, the first draft is never really complete and isn’t very good.”

“Yes, that’s often the case,” I agreed.

“Okay, then after you have had some time for reflection and you write your second draft, this is an improvement over the first draft, but still, it can be improved. So after further reflection and writing, your third version is great. Now you can send it to your publisher.”

I said to him, “Oh no, please don’t tell me that this is a metaphor for religious texts.”

“Yes, indeed,” he uttered. “The first draft is the Hebrew Bible — not so good. The second draft is the Christian scriptures — somewhat better, but not much. But the best version, the third, is the Quran: the real truth, the ultimate truth, the only truth.”

My response to this young man: “As we speak, we are standing a few short blocks from the former World Trade Center towers. Utterances and understandings like yours and like the young woman I just spoke with, and by people of any faith, that there is one and only one ultimate religious truth results in people taking it upon themselves, for example, to crash airplanes into buildings. Utterances like yours of people of any faith give people justification to kill in the name of their interpretation of ‘God.’”

“Why,” I argued, “cannot the young woman I just spoke with realize that her understanding of God, while valid and reliable for her, may simply not be valid and reliable for me or for you, too? And why cannot you realize that your understanding may be great for you, but not necessarily for me and for the Christian woman. How many deaths must occur before we realize that there are many ways toward the truth, not one way for everyone when it comes to religion and spirituality?”

That was then. Though it occurred some years ago, this discussion comes back to my memory giving me an insight I previously had not known: That “truth” is what the dominant group declares to be “true.”

“Knowledge” is anything the dominant group defines as “knowledge,” though “knowledge” itself is socially constructed and produced.

How many wars are we going to justify in the name of “God,” our “God” versus their so-called “false gods”?

Someone said to me once that throughout the ages more people have been killed in the name of religion than all the people who have ever died of all diseases combined.

I don’t know whether this is actually the case, but I do think it highlights a vital point, that we continually kill others and are killed by others over concepts that can never be proven.

Throughout history, the Jews and Muslims have killed each other, the Christians and Muslims have killed each other, the Christians and Jews have killed each other, the Hindus and Muslims have killed each other, the Catholics and Protestants have killed each other, the Sunni Muslims and the Shiite Muslims have killed each other, many faith communities have killed Atheists and Agnostics, and on and on and on.

In psychology, there is the notion that insanity is doing something over and over again while expecting different results. The insanity of the world continues because human beings do not know their history, do not understand that we are doing something over and over again while expecting different results, namely, we are expecting peace to break out.

Individuals and entire nations continue to believe that their reality fits all, and that it is proper and right to force their beliefs onto others “with God on our side.”

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).

Written by Warren Blumenfeld

April 6th, 2017 at 2:53 pm

Posted in Uncategorized