Archive | January, 2013

Trans-species homophobia

31 Jan

I’m not kidding. This story left me speechless and awed by the power of homophobia (https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=3723297941636&set=a.1340111163456.42397.1851498852&type=1&theater).

According to the Facebook campaign to save a bulldog-mix who was dropped off at a high-kill rabies control shelter in TN:

the “owner says [the dog is] gay! He hunched another male dog so his owner threw him away bc he refuses to have a “gay” dog! Even if that weren’t the most assinine [sic] thing I’ve ever heard, its [sic] still discrimination! Don’t let this gorgeous dog die bc his owner is ignorant of normal dog behavior!

When ABC News covered the story, they noted that the behavior the owner objected to is “a display of dominance” between male dogs, and “standard pet behavior.”

Despite the distressing, absurd and very nearly lethal turn of events in this dog’s life, there is a happy ending to the story: the dog now named Elton was adopted by a vet tech.

First Domestic Service Trip… Ever?

30 Jan

This was in my inbox this morning:

Yale Alumni Service Corps
Announces the
2013 First Domestic Service Trip to West Virginia
June 26th-June 30th, 2013

Now, this sounds like a great opportunity, both for low-income high school students who want to to attend college, and for Yale alums who have college counseling and writing skills.

So, go, Yale.

And…

“First Domestic Service Trip”? Ever? Seriously?

Yale was founded in 1701. 312 years ago!

Now, just in case any of us were thinking that’s a long time not to notice poverty, hunger and homelessness in the US–and even more locally, in New Haven (according to The Yale Daily News, 25% of New Haven residents were living in poverty in 2010: http://yaledailynews.com/blog/2010/10/05/1-in-4-live-in-poverty-in-new-haven/), the YASC assures alumni:

“YASC has not forgotten that communities in the US are also in need and that as college alumni we can make a difference by inspiring deserving students to apply to college.”

See, I kinda think YASC did forget. Or was trying not to look.

And while I understand feeling the need to present a “we got this” front to the world when you’re an institution like Yale, I would respect this branch of my alma mater all the more so if it would transparently reflect on its historic service bias and blindspots, acknowledge the influences and perspectives that caused it to notice those biases (alumni feedback? role modeling by other peer or competing institutions?) and reconcile its vision and intentions with its newer, more inclusive programs, so that this isn’t just about keeping up with the Harvards (or whomevers): it’s about YASC having ongoing awareness and discernment.

Which we all need.

Why representation matters

24 Jan

Recently on Fresh Air, Terry Gross interviewed Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church and author of the book God Believes in Love: Straight Talk About Gay Marriage. At the beginning of the interview, Terry asks Bishop Robinson about the importance of having an openly gay person in the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops (Robinson was the first; the Rev. Canon Mary Glasspool followed Robinson as the first openly gay female bishop). Bishop Robinson responds that as the Episcopal Church, like all other faiths, finds itself grappling with questions of sexuality, it’s “terribly important” to have an openly gay voice in the House of Bishops, so that church can strive to be “relevant to the times and to the culture”  (http://www.npr.org/programs/fresh-air/).

I found this answer, while pragmatic, to fall a little short.

And it’s a typical answer. I hear variations on this theme in the organizations with whom I work: it’s important to have diversity in our leadership because, after all, diversity is a fact of our times.

But so is bigotry. So is it important to have bigots in leadership to be culturally and temporally “relevant”? I should hope not.

What this ambiguity of logic and response regarding “why diversity” indicates to me is that we’re not always clear on why, exactly, diversity matters. The unspoken reasons why we need diversity in leadership include:

  • To be politically correct
  • To look good
  • To be able to say, “We’re not racist/sexist/homophobic/anti-Semitic/classist/otherwise discriminatory! Look, we have one!”

These are not very satisfying reasons, either.

And I fear that all too often an unclear rationale for diversity in leadership results in expectations of representation on the minority: the one gay bishop is expected do all speaking for LGBQQ* and same-sex couple rights, and everyone else can turn the sexuality-equity part of their brains off, because that one bishop has it covered. (Plus, bonus! The House of Bishops gets points for being inclusive!)

To create a culture of equity in which everyone is a steward, the answer to “why diversity?” must be pragmatic, focusing on the metaphorical and very real bottom line. Diversity must fundamentally and vitally benefit organizations’ process and outcomes. Otherwise, it’s not just window dressing; it’s a distraction from the mission. So charity, guilt and fear, while real human motivators, aren’t sustainable or valid reasons to put people in leadership.

So why diversity? Diversity within an organization that is run by and serves people (i.e. most organizations) helps that organization do its work better by shifting the thinking and action from what what’s best for them (whether “they” are the consumer, the student or the congregant), to what’s best for us. It means remembering who we serve: not a two-dimensional demographic or a stereotype. Diversity helps us to be mindful, to be present, to be creative and to be inclusive. Because even when we think “there’s no diversity,” there is. And therein lies the danger: we give ourselves permission to think and act narrowly when we presume everyone is the same. So why diversity? Because it helps groups function more equitably, inclusively and, therefore, more equitably.

* LGBQQ refers to lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer and questioning identities. I’m referring specifically to sexuality, here, although gender identity is often also thrown into the mix–sometimes intentionally and sometimes because people conflate gender and sexuality.

A professional growth opportunity (for good!)

15 Jan

The Greater Good Science Center is hosting their first ever summer institute for K-12 educators at UC Berkeley. I, for one, am excited. It’s an overnight retreat (June 28-July 3, 2013) with a great panel of speakers, who will facilitate participants in:

  • Exploring the latest scientific research on the benefits of cultivating social-emotional skills
  • Learning research-based practices for fostering social-emotional well-being in themselves and students
  • Engaging with thought leaders on how to make the case for the importance of social-emotional learning in their schools and communities

For more info, check out: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/news_events/event/summer_institute_for_educators?utm_source=GG+Ed+Newsletter+Jan.+2013+-+School+Admin&utm_campaign=GG+Education+Admin%2FTedX+-+January+2013&utm_medium=email#objectives.

And if you or someone you know ends up attending, I encourage using identity and diversity as lenses to deepen takeaways. Some guiding questions might include:

  • How is the “latest scientific research and practices” culturally biased? (Remember: bias isn’t inherently “bad”; it’s just a fact, with the potential to be discriminatory if we’re not aware, and/or we choose not to act for equity and inclusion.)
  • Which social-emotional skills are cultural, and what does culturally competent social-emotional practice look like?
  • How do identity and diversity impact our social-emotional response to others? For instance, how does how we identify others facilitate or hinder our compassion for them?

Transsexual or transgender?

15 Jan

Today, just a quick resource-share: in “Working With Transgender Persons Answers to Frequently Asked Questions”

(http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/gender-disorders/content/article/10168/2100893), Paul Elizondo et al. discuss some basic questions about transgender identity,  experiences and community. You may have trouble accessing the whole article, unless you’re a member of Psychiatric Times (I have a request in to co-author Willy Wilkinson), but for now, I thought I’d share this simple but clarifying definition and visual for the terms: transsexual, transgender and gender nonconforming. (Note: this article is written for mental health professionals, thus the term “patient” is used.)

image_gallery

While I would propose that someone who is transsexual is living as a different sex from his/her sex at birth (to make the distinction between sex and gender), I appreciate how these definitions illustrate the relationships between gender and sex, and trans and nonconforming identities, and how they clarify some popular conceptions, i.e. that transsexual identity does not require surgical alteration, and none of these identities imply a particular sexual orientation.

All too often, identities get conflated–in addition to gender, sex and sexuality; race and ethnicity, and socioeconomics and class come to mind–and the reason I would argue for precision with our language isn’t political correctness, but the utility of having a broad and nuanced lexicon for talking about who we are and how others see us. To name how we can be cash poor and still identify with a privileged class, or how we can be heterosexual in a male body that doesn’t match our female self-concept.

While all the language of identities can feel overwhelming (like there’s a vocab test we’re going to fail), I encourage learning and practicing how to name both the identities we hold as integral to our sense of self and those we can’t fathom, as a fundamental skill of inclusion.

3rd Compassion Research Day at Facebook

11 Jan

If you happen to be able to make it to Facebook HG on Wednesday, January 23rd, you are welcome to attend the 3rd (annual) Compassion Research Day. Here’s a little about the what, who and why:

Do you know anyone who has had a photo of them shared that they didn’t like? Or a teenager that has been bullied online? For the past year, we partnered up great scientists like Dacher Keltner, Emiliana Simon-Thomas and Paul Piff from Berkeley and Marc Brackett and Robin Stern from Yale to explore ways and implications of communicating emotion, and to build tools that are emotionally intelligent for the 1 billion people who use Facebook.

For more info, please check out: https://www.facebook.com/events/526734557356367/. And maybe I’ll see you there.

Si usted habla español

11 Jan

Here are the signs that were posted at playgrounds in Milford, Delaware:

original

If, like me, you don’t read Spanish, you might just presume that the Spanish language sign is a translation of the English language sign. But according to David Edwards at The Raw Story… it says something a little different: “You must have a permit to play in this field. Violators will be subject to police action” (http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/01/07/racist-sign-threatening-spanish-speakers-removed-from-playground-in-delaware/).

After photos of the signs went viral, the city of Milford took down the signs, and the schools superintendent Phyllis Kohel, who physically removed a couple of signs herself, claimed they must have been posted in “error.”

That’s some error. While Kohel “certainly assume[s] there was not an intent to discriminate,” I can’t help but agree with blogger Delaware Dem, who described it as “an obvious intimidation tactic and a not so subtle ‘Whites Only’ sign” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/07/racist-playground-sign-delaware-anti-latino-sign_n_2427133.html?utm_medium=referral&utm_source=pulsenews). Intentional or not, the Spanish-language sign was (1) intimidating and (2) just another version of “Whites Only.” What I’d like to hear from Kohel is less on debatable intention, and more acknowledgment of impact.

And here, I’d like to point out an interesting facet of this story: the existence of the signs went viral after conservative radio host Dan Gaffney posted it on Facebook. That’s right: Gaffney is a conservative.

Quick self-check: does that challenge any bias or assumption you have about political affiliation and antiracist activism? I’ll admit: it does mine. I have a tendency to associate political conservatism with social conservatism (to put it politely) and even bigotry (to put it bluntly).

But as a recent NPR Talk of the Nation discussion “After ‘Fiscal Cliff’ Debate, The State Of The GOP” reminded me, that’s just another stereotype. Guest commentator Republican Representative Steve LaTourette cited party extremists (and our attention to them) as the reason that, as a listener put it, “there’s a negative stigma that associates Republicans with social conservatism,” when “by and large most Tea Party people [for example] are just interested in paying fewer taxes and balancing the budget” (http://www.npr.org/2013/01/09/168967267/nprs-political-junkie-ken-rudin-recaps-the-week-in-politics).

Here, I’ll offer another mea culpa: I’ve allowed my education about the Tea Party to be dictated predominantly by news headlines about outrageous things Tea Party members say, which, when I think about it, is utterly irresponsible. Did I expect to read coverage of the fair and reasonable things the Tea Party stands for? Of course not.

What I owe the Tea Party and myself is more intentional and active challenging of the stereotypes that conveniently reaffirm the way I’ve become comfortable seeing the world. Because, actually, I like the world in which I see fuller, more complex Tea, Libertarian, Republican, Green and Democratic Parties.

** Thanks to my friend EB for the article.