Archive | September, 2012

Dear NY Times: I beg to differ

29 Sep

Writing in anticipation of Monday’s announcements about the Supreme Court’s docket for the next terms, the NY Times‘ Adam Liptak writes, “The theme this term is the nature of equality, and it will play out over issues that have bedeviled the nation for decades” (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/30/us/supreme-court-faces-crucial-cases-in-new-session.html). He’s referring to cases deciding the constitutionality of same-sex marriage, affirmative action in higher ed admissions and voting rights.

Actually, Mr. Liptak, the question is really about the nature of equity. We’re not equal, which is why these cases have emerged. And even if the Supreme Court validates same-sex marriage, affirmative action and inclusive voting practices, we still won’t be equal.

Rather than the red herring of the equality of diverse people, I would argue that what these cases are about is the equity of our society. The charge for the Supreme Court and for each of us is to discern and act on what is fair, given the fact that we are unequal, and that our differences do matter, in a persevering and not entirely negative way. Differences aren’t the problem; discrimination is.

SF LGBTQ Inclusive Preschool Fair 2012

28 Sep

Looking for a preschool that values children of diverse identities and inclusive community?

Read below, from the Directors of Our Family Coalition, who are hosting the “first ever” LGBTQ Inclusive Preschool Fair.

Dear Colleagues,

Please join us for the first ever lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) Inclusive Preschool Fair.  The fair is hosted by Our Family Coalition, an organization serving hundreds of LGBTQ families in the San Francisco.

This fair will provide San Francisco preschool teachers and directors an opportunity to reach out to a community of involved and committed parents of young children. Schools will be able to distribute brochures and other materials, while talking to parents about their programs. Parents will be looking for schools that value diversity and welcome all families.

Please mark your calendars and plan to attend this important event!  We look forward to seeing you there.

In Community,

Mame Campbell-Salin, Director, Glenridge Cooperative Nursery School

Tarah Fleming, Education Director, Our Family Coalition

When: Saturday, October 6, 9:30am-1:30pm Where: San Francisco Friends School, 250 Valencia St., San Francisco

Cost: $50 per school, which includes a table to display brochures and schools will have the opportunity to send staff and administrators to talk to parents. Questions: Call 415-981-1960, or e-mail tarah@ourfamily.org

To register: http://prekfair2012.eventbrite.com/

Encouraging girls–not just women–to go into the sciences

26 Sep

When is the time to start encouraging girls to go into science, technology, engineering and math?

Already.

While women are outpacing men in graduation rates and numbers, the STEM fields continue to be male-dominated. According to the NY Times, women “earn less than 20 percent of all undergraduate degrees” in computer science and engineering (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/17/education/online-mentoring-program-to-encourage-women-in-sciences.html?_r=0).

So when I read the Times article about WitsOn (Women in Technology Sharing Online), a new program “connect[ing] undergraduate students pursuing STEM degrees with female mentors from industry and academia who can speak from personal experience about issues of particular concern to young women” (https://piazza.com/witson), I was excited… and disappointed.

It’s great for college-age women who are already pursuing STEM degrees to have mentors to whom they can ask real questions, like “How sexist is programming?” “How did you get where you are?” “Do you have time for your family?” “When is it right to correct misunderstandings about women in technology fields and when do you have to just let it slide?”

And what about all the girls in elementary, middle and high school who don’t even consider STEM studies, regardless of their aptitude and potential? Yes, I know we’ve got to start somewhere, and I’m so grateful to the women leaders who created and donate their time and wisdom to WitsOn.

And I’d like to see WitsOn grow its outreach to younger women and girls who are beginning and in the thick of the critical decision-making and identity-forming that shape their attitudes, choices and access by the time they are–or could have been–college undergrads.

If you want to join me in thanking WitsOn and encouraging them to connect as mentors with younger potential scientists, you can do that on their “contact us” page: https://piazza.com/contactus.html.

Thanks for taking the time.

Can’t a Muslim just mourn?

24 Sep

Here’s the picture a friend e-mailed me:

The text of the e-mail read (in large italicized, multicolored and bolded letters):

IN CASE YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THIS.
READ CAREFULLY……….. This is so “Unbelievable”…..

In Houston, Texas

Harwin Central Mall: The very first store that you come to when you walk from the lobby of the building into the shopping area had this sign posted on their door. The shop is run by Muslims.

Feel free to share this with others.

“We will be closed on Tuesday, September 11, 2012 to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Ali”

Imam Ali flew one of the planes into the twin towers.

Nice huh?

Try telling me we’re not in a Religious war!

My first reaction? I think not. Why?

  1. It was one of those e-mails forwarded through various people. You know, read and forward, read and forward, read and forward–because the people should know!
  2. Any e-mail that is written in red, blue and black text that is randomly left-aligned and then centered on the page in no less than 24 pt font is immediately suspicious to me, as to the merit of its message.
  3. The abuse of the ellipsis (…) completely undermines any reliability the writer aspires to. Holding down the button does not make this punctuation any more serious, folks.

So I did some research. I typed “We will be closed on Tuesday, September 11, 2012 to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Ali” into a search engine and… bing!

Up popped snopes.com, about.com’s “Urban legends” page and truthorfiction.com: three sites dedicated to debunking e-myths. Here’s the scoop:

The mall in Houston is real (it’s actually known as the Harwin Central Mart), the store in the mall is real (it’s called Perfume Planet), and the sign pictured above was real (it said, “We will be closed on Friday, September 11, 2009 to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Ali (A.S.)”).

However, the email text contains a very conspicuous falsehood, namely the claim that “Imam Ali” was one of the terrorists who flew planes into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. He was not. None of the 9/11 hijackers identified by the FBI went by that name.

In fact, Imam Ali — whom Shia Muslims revere as Muhammad’s successor and Islam’s First Imam — died more than 13 centuries ago, in 661 A.D. His martyrdom is commemorated on the 21st day of Ramadan each year, which in 2009 happened to fall on September 11.

Update: A new (and obviously false) version of this rumor began circulating in September 2012 claiming that the store closing sign was posted in 2012 (http://urbanlegends.about.com/od/socialpoliticalissues/ss/sign_in_harwin_central_mall.htm).

According to snopes.com:

Store manager Imran Chunawala was stunned [by the reaction] because the holiday had nothing to do with 9/11 [and the store has closed every year to observe Imam Ali’s martyrdom].

Then he realized what happened. Imam Ali died on the 21st day of Ramadan in the year 661 AD. It’s a somber and significant holy day for Muslims. [in 2009] it coincidentally fell on September 11.

“We did not explain enough in the sign because that is the exact same sign we put up every year on this particular day for this particular reason,” said Chunawala.

He apologized for the confusion and put up a new sign thoroughly explaining the martyr they were honoring died in 661 AD.

“If people thought that that’s what this was about, I apologize,” Chunawala said. “That was not what this was about. I’m clarifying once again and I seriously am sorry for any misunderstanding that this caused”  (http://www.snopes.com/rumors/photos/martyr.asp).

Note the profuse apology. No matter how sincerely Chunawala may regret that people were offended, I can’t help but think he must also be motivated by fear of what other people’s misunderstanding and lack of information might mean for him and his business.

Sadly but predictably, despite the public apology and clarification, the store’s owner, a US citizen, has been accused of being a terrorist and threatened in person and by mail.

So what? As about.com has pointed out, this rumor, which started in 2009, has been resurrected in 2012. So I’ve spent the past hour researching, responding to the person who e-mailed me (and cc’ing the person who e-mailed him) and writing this post because it’s time this hate legend went extinct.

I’m asking you to take the time to stomp out this and other hate legends, if they reach your inbox. Unlike other fabrications that just contain silly misinformation, hate legends perpetuate ignorance to justify intolerance, violence and inhumanity toward a group. And it’s not enough just to delete a hate legend: we have a responsibility to “reply all.”

Celebrating choice… including the freedom not to have to choose

21 Sep

Sunday 9/23 is Bisexual Pride Day.

No, not LGBTQ Day. And let’s take this opportunity to talk about that alphabet soup, shall we?

LGBTQ (variously, LGBTTQQ) stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Transsexual, Queer and Questioning. Notice anything about this list?

The LGB and Q stand for our sexuality: that is, the aspect of our identities that is based on our emotional and physical attractions and relationships with others, and includes but is not limited to our perception of this aspect of ourselves. The T’s refer to our gender and sex, i.e.

Often used interchangeably, gender is related to sex but not necessarily determined by it.

  • Sex is the aspect of our identities that is based on the biological (reproductive) characteristics of men and women.
  • Gender is the aspect of our identities that is based on characteristics (behaviors, activities, and physical attributes) that a society deems “masculine” or “feminine.”

To throw transgender and transsexual identities and cultures in with LGBQ(Q) identities and cultures is to assume that they are about the same–or similar enough–experiences and issues. But transgender folks aren’t necessarily LGB or Q.

… which brings us back to Bisexual Pride Day.

Why a day specifically for bisexual pride?

Because we tend to think of identity as boxes. And the ironic privilege, if you will, of identifying as gay or lesbian, even in a heterosexist society, is that you fit into a box. It’s like the privilege of identifying as Asian in a culture that provides me a box, but either provides no box or provides too many competing and confusing boxes for folks who identify as multiracial.

From both sides of the heterosexual-gay/lesbian dichotomy, there’s pressure or expectation for bisexual and questioning folks to just choose! Declare themselves… and pick a side.

Bisexual Pride Day acknowledges that bisexuality isn’t purgatory, indecision or a waiting area. It’s an identity and a human reality.

Earlier this year, a student identified herself to me as “heteroflexible.” She explained that while she’s hetero right now, she’s open to being other than heterosexual. I’m so grateful to her for this new (to me) language because it occurred to me that I’m heteroflexible, too! While I’ve spent 41 years as a heterosexual woman, and I’ve committed to my partner for the rest of my life, I can’t say that I know I will be heterosexual forever. I can only say that I’ve planned on it. And I suspect that’s a broader truth for humanity. We cultivate our identities, sexual and other, and we make them our nouns, while perhaps, they’re really verbs that express how we “do” who we are right now.

With that perspective, I invite you to celebrate Bisexual Pride on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday… and throughout the year. You can do it just by keeping the option open for yourself and those around you, and challenging the notion that bi is just a phase.

For more info, check out: http://www.facebook.com/events/294190593954110/

Why Muhammad isn’t funny: a cultural perspective

20 Sep

In between the French publication of a cartoon mocking the Prophet Muhammad (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/20/world/europe/french-magazine-publishes-cartoons-mocking-muhammad.html?hp) and the release of the US-made online video mocking Muhammad (http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/11/obscure-film-mocking-muslim-prophet-sparks-anti-u-s-protests-in-egypt-and-libya/), the NY Times published an article that enlightened me as to why these acts aren’t just disrespectful, insensitive, in poor taste, inconsiderate or “politically incorrect.”

Putting the argument in terms of mutual respect (as Egyptian Muslim Khaled Ali does when he states, “We never insult any prophet — not Moses, not Jesus — so why can’t we demand that Muhammad be respected?”) seems fair enough, but it’s tricky to respect mutually what isn’t valued equally.

The question is not just how Muhammad is valued across cultures, but within Muslim ones. As religious scholar Ismail Mohamed notes, “Our prophet is more dear to us than our family and our nation”  (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/17/world/middleeast/muslims-rage-over-film-fueled-by-culture-divide.html?pagewanted=all).

How dear? More than human life. As David Kirkpatrick of the NY Times writes:

In the West, many may express astonishment that the murder of Muslims in hate crimes does not provoke the same level of global outrage as the video did. But even a day after the clashes in Cairo had subsided, many Egyptians argued that a slur against their faith was a greater offense than any attack on a living person.

“When you hurt someone, you are just hurting one person,” said Ahmed Shobaky, 42, a jeweler. “But when you insult a faith like that, you are insulting a whole nation that feels the pain.”

I am one of those who are astonished.

And humbled, as I regard anew the very different cultural bias of our nation, which values free speech so much that we lead with it in our Bill of Rights, and tolerate arguable abuse and distortion of that right in order to preserve it.

So while I don’t believe that ideological differences ever justify violence, I also don’t believe that ignorance is a good excuse for ongoing and intentional provocation. I do believe that it’s possible for us to have empathy and make discerning choices (not just fearful or “sensitive” ones), through perspective-taking and cultural humility. In these particular instances, perhaps it’s not such a cultural stretch for us in the US to understand the real injury a cartoon or video can inflict. It was, after all, an English playwright (Edward Bulwer-Lytton) who wrote, “The pen is mightier than the sword.”

Why I want the Baltimore Ravens to go to the Super Bowl (and the Minnesota Vikings, too)

19 Sep

I don’t know from football.

And I’d never heard of Brendon Ayanbadejo until a few days ago. Ayanbadejo is a linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens and an advocate of same-sex marriage. Ayanbadejo, who is heterosexual and a father of two, understands what it’s like not to fit in, and what it’s like not to have the privileges of the majority.

So in 2009 when he felt Barack Obama wasn’t doing enough to advance LGBQ rights, he spoke up, posting his thoughts in “Same Sex Marriages: What’s the Big Deal?” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brendon-ayanbadejo/same-sex-marriages-whats_b_190591.html) The premise of his argument is Constitutional, not liberal:

First and foremost, church and state are supposed to be completely separated when it comes to the rule of law in the United States. So the religious argument that God meant for only man and woman to be together has no bearing here! … We are a secular capitalistic democracy. That’s it.

Sound argument, that Constitution.

However.

Maryland State delegate Emmett Burns found Ayanbadejo’s exercise of his first Amendment right “inconceivable,” and so exercised his right to free speech, by writing a letter to Steve Bisciotti owner of the Ravens:

“requesting that [Bisciotti] take the necessary action, as a National Football Franchise Owner, to inhibit such expressions from [his] employee and that [Ayanbadejo] be ordered to cease and desist such injurious actions. I know of no other NFL player who has done what Mr. Ayambadejo [sic] is doing” (http://sports.yahoo.com/news/nfl–maryland-politician%E2%80%99s-letter-denouncing-brendon-ayanbadejo%E2%80%99s-support-of-gay-marriage.html;_ylt=AnKGJ_4ZZlaJPpFIIrAZDW1N7Ox_;_ylu=X3oDMTFycW9yNjU4BG1pdANBUlRJQ0xFIEFydGljbGUgQm9keQRwb3MDNgRzZWMDTWVkaWFBcnRpY2xlQm9keUFzc2VtYmx5;_ylg=X3oDMTJ2YjUxdGhhBGludGwDdXMEbGFuZwNlbi11cwRwc3RhaWQDYmEyYTgxMzgtNmJiMC0zNjhhLWJiYTYtOTQwODc1YWE1MmRmBHBzdGNhdANob21lfGV4cGVydHMEcHQDc3RvcnlwYWdl;_ylv=3).

First of all, Mr. Burns, spell a person’s name correctly, OK?

Secondly, yes, that’s the point: that “no other NFL player” had done what Ayanbadejo did!

Burns’ rationale was that “[m]any… fans are opposed to such a view and feel it has no place in a sport that is strictly for pride, entertainment and excitement. I believe Mr. Ayanbadejo should concentrate on football and steer clear of dividing the fan base.”

Really? Well, Burns ended up doing some dividing of his own, eliciting among other responses (including Bisciotti’s unconditional support of Ayanbadejo and his right to free speech), this fabulous response from Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe. By “fabulous,” I mean that Kluwe is articulate, reasoned and at times effectively blunt in expressing his support of Ayanbadejo and same-sex marriage. Kluwe opens:

I find it inconceivable that you are an elected official of Maryland’s state government. Your vitriolic hatred and bigotry make me ashamed and disgusted to think that you are in any way responsible for shaping policy at any level. The views you espouse neglect to consider several fundamental key points, which I will outline in great detail (you may want to hire an intern to help you with the longer words)…(http://deadspin.com/5941348/they-wont-magically-turn-you-into-a-lustful-)

His argument, which includes such highlights as “Holy fucking shitballs. Did you seriously just say that…” concludes:

I can assure you that gay people getting married will have zero effect on your life. They won’t come into your house and steal your children. They won’t magically turn you into a lustful cockmonster. They won’t even overthrow the government in an orgy of hedonistic debauchery because all of a sudden they have the same legal rights as the other 90 percent of our population—rights like Social Security benefits, child care tax credits, Family and Medical Leave to take care of loved ones, and COBRA healthcare for spouses and children. You know what having these rights will make gays? Full-fledged American citizens just like everyone else, with the freedom to pursue happiness and all that entails. Do the civil-rights struggles of the past 200 years mean absolutely nothing to you?

In closing, I would like to say that I hope this letter, in some small way, causes you to reflect upon the magnitude of the colossal foot in mouth clusterfuck you so brazenly unleashed on a man whose only crime was speaking out for something he believed in. Best of luck in the next election; I’m fairly certain you might need it.

Actually, Kluwe adds a P.S. in which he notes that he, too, had spoken out in support of gay rights before this whole incident. I encourage you to read it, and the whole note for yourself.

And perhaps, like me, you’ll be thinking about your own response and responsibility next time you have the opportunity to be an advocate, an ally, an empathizer (because, like Ayanbadejo, we all know what it’s like to be different and treated as less than because of it) and someone who has the privilege of freedom of speech.

**Thanks every so much to EB for the link.