Saturday, March 30, 2013

Marriage equality is not a distraction

I imagine that most people who have been on Facebook at some point over the past three days have seen this image popping up in profile pictures everywhere:

Image of a pink equal sign on a red background, a recoloured version of the logo for the HRC.

The Human Rights Campaign, or HRC, asked people to us this image in place of their usual profile pictures in support of marriage equality*. The reason for this is because on Tuesday, the United states Supreme Court began hearing arguments related to California's Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot initiative that marked the end of marriage equality in that state, though same-sex marriages preformed prior to its passing remained valid. Wednesday, the SCOTUS heard arguments regarding the constitutionality of the Defense** of Marriage Act, or DOMA, which limits the federal definition of marriage to one man and one woman, and denied federal marriage benefits to same-sex couples (even those whose marriage or civil union was preformed in a state where such marriages are legally recognized). While seeing both laws stuck down would represent a best-case scenario, and represent a major victory for those who support marriage equality, it would not automatically grant same-sex couples the right to legally marry nationwide. Still, it would pave the way for future court challenges of same-sex marriage bans, and any decision made by the SCOTUS on these cases may end up being precedent-setting. It would be a big step forward, at any rate (though of course marriage is hardly the final frontier when it comes to ensuring full equality for the LGBT community; Melissa McEwan over at Shakesville has an excellent post on the subject, found here).

Now, if you're like me and you're a lefty liberal with lots of lefty liberal friends, you may have also been hearing a lot about the so-called Monsanto Protection Act over the past few days. Now, as a general rule I'm pretty cool with GMOs, though the idea that a giant company that produces them might need-- and then be granted-- specific legal protection didn't seem quite right. I didn't know a whole lot about the situation at the time, however, and opted to wait until I knew more about it before forming an opinion.

Then I saw this image posted by a friend on Facebook (which, to date, has been shared more than 11,500 times):
Image of a white woman with a dissatisfied, disgusted look on her face. Text on image reads as follows: while everyone was distracted by the gay marriage debate. Obama signed the Monsanto Protection Act no debate, no hoopla. dumb people.

I have a serious problem with this image, and not just because of the sloppy punctuation.

The framing that marriage equality is a distraction when the real issue is Monsanto and GMOs is extremely problematic, and those who agree are in serious need of a privilege check. A step towards equality for a marginalized population is quite rightly a big deal, and it's a very important issue. If people tried to take away, for example, freedom of speech, everyone would rightfully be very much up in arms about it, and court cases that seek to grant people that freedom would be watched closely. Of course, freedom of speech is a right enjoyed by all people, including those with privilege. No one would ever call such a debate a distraction; in that same vein, we should never think of equality for LGBT people a distraction. Caring about food, the environment, or whatever it is that people opposed to GMOs and Monsanto more than the struggle for equality faced by the LGBT community once again tries to push aside the concerns of marginalized people in favour of the concerns of the privileged.

As if this excessive display of privilege wasn't enough, it's not even accurate! Let's set the record straight: there is no Monsanto Protection Act. The bill signed by President Obama is one that allows the   American government to continue to pay its bills, and this act expires at the end of the fiscal year (which, for the government, is in October). The bit people are so up-in-arms about is a section that deals  with litigation as it pertains to agriculture, and allows the Secretary of Agriculture to permit farmers to continue growing crops, even if litigation has been filed concerning that crop. More information about the provision and what it means can be found here.

What's also  important to note is this bit of legislation isn't even new! It was already made law in June, 2012, as part of an Agricultural Appropriations bill. Furthermore, what passed in 2012 only sought to codify a  SCOTUS decision made in 2010. People who are concerned about the provision Obama passed just a few days ago are quite late to this particular party.

I think it's important to mention that while, yes, this provision will help giant corporations like Monsanto, that's not necessarily the intent behind it, nor are they the only ones who stand to benefit. If anything, it's individual farms that can be hurt the most if someone files a suit regarding a crop. Before, this would mean that the crop couldn't be planted until the litigation process ended, which could take years. A giant company like Monsanto can absorb those costs; they probably don't want to, because it'll cut into their bottom line, but they won't go bankrupt over it. Farmers themselves don't necessarily have that luxury, and being unable to plant a crop for years could ruin them, especially if planting had already started when the suit was filed.

So, not only does the outrage over Monsanto and GMOs and this bit of law favour the concerns of the privileged over the rights of the marginalized, it's based on a lot of bad information. Good job, kyriarchy.

Marriage equality is most definitely not a distraction. It is an important step towards equality for LGBTQ people. If anything, Monsanto and agriculture litigation laws are the distraction.

*Some, myself included, have opted not to use this image in light of some of the problematic things the HRC has done to alienate the trans* community. That's a topic for another post, though.

**On my own Facebook page, I initially referred to this act as the Defence of Marriage Act, spelled using proper Queen's English. However, as an American friend of mine pointed out, "It might be a shitty and hateful law, but it's OUR shitty and hateful law, and we get to pick the spelling." I suppose I can allow that.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

How the election was really won

American liberals have a lot to celebrate after the election on Tuesday. Not only was President Barack Obama re-elected, but ballot initiatives to legalize same-sex marriage passed in three states, a record number of women were elected to the US Senate, and anti-choice rape apologists (such as Todd "legitimate rape" Akin and Richard "rape is a gift from God" Mourdock) were defeated, just to name a few. This post over at Shakesville rounds up many of the victories, and even more are mentioned in the comment thread.

Naturally, Republicans and their supporters are pretty disappointed. Some of the reactions from the right have been pretty extreme, from declaring that Obama is the anti-Christ and the world will soon be ending, to calling for an exodus to Canada, Europe or Australia (I don't think they thought that through very well), to calling for a revolution and saying the election was stolen. I have a couple of things I'd like to say to them. First:

While many dedicated Americans worked very hard on campaigns that helped Barack Obama get re-elected, in addition to all the other progressive victories, they were not working alone. Since the election is now over, it's safe to reveal the truth: they were aided by a vast conspiracy of gay feminist socialist Canadians.

That's right, right-wingers: you really can blame Canada for this one.

It all started in May of last year, when Stephen Harper's Conservatives won a majority of the seats in the House of Commons. While the Tories aren't quite as scary as the GOP, they've been studying the Republican handbook, and it's all getting programmed into the HarperTron. (What, you didn't know he was really a robot? The conspiracy does.) We feared that one day, Canada might not be the liberal paradise it is today, and we needed to secure our future by ensuring that we had someplace to go in things got really bad. Thus a coalition of gay feminist socialist Canadians was born, and we turned our attention on the United States.

First, obviously, we needed to make sure that people could get gay married if we were forced to emigrate. This was tricky; you Americans keep putting gay marriage on the ballot, and it was always defeated. Many states voted to enact bans on sam-sex marriages, and Minnesota was poised to be the next state to do so. We couldn't let that happen. Members of the gay feminist socialist Canadian conspiracy were dispatched, and the ballot initiative failed. We also ensured that same-sex marriages were legalized in three states-- Maryland, Maine and Washington-- marking the first time that Americans voted in favour of marriage equality (though, of course, they had plenty of help). Finally, we needed to see one of our own in government, so we pushed hard for the election of Tammy Baldwin, the first-ever openly gay Senator.

Now, there were a number of anti-choice candidates running for Senate and Congress who made some truly horrific comments regarding rape. Once again, members of the gay feminist socialist Canadian conspiracy were dispatched, and those candidates all fell over like dominos. It was another victory for liberal Americans and the conspiracy.

Next, we needed some good, socialist representation. The re-election of Bernie Sanders was pretty much a guarantee, so the gay feminist socialist Canadian conspiracy set to work on ensuring the election of Elizabeth Warren as well. She won, and the conspiracy claimed another victory-- quietly, of course, at least until now.

Finally, we needed to clinch the presidency for Barack Obama, or else all the other victories we worked so hard for could be undone by Romney. Obama wasn't our first choice-- ideally, we'd have Zombie Jack Layton as a candidate-- but he's a hell of a lot better than the other guy running. Guaranteeing the re-election was the tricky part. First, the gay feminist socialist Canadian conspiracy had to infiltrate the New York Times and gain the allegiance of blogger and poll aggregator Nate Silver. We had intelligence stating that he really is a witch, though not in the way people are thinking. The reason why his election forecast model is so perfect is because he's able to magically manipulate the election results themselves, which is why the gay feminist socialist Canadian conspiracy needed him. Had his model predicted a Romney win, all our ground work would have been for naught. Fortunately, Silver is a Democrat, so he was only too happy to help us.

So there it is, Republicans: this is the real reason why you lost. Your garbage policies and hateful candidates didn't help, but in the end it all came down to a gay feminist socialist Canadian conspiracy working to turn America into a progressive paradise.

We'll see you in 2016.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Mental illness and violence

If I believed it was possible to jinx oneself, I would say that I jinxed myself; yesterday I said I had the best sleep ever, and then last night I didn't sleep at all. Fuck you, insomnia.

In spite of being something of a political junkie, I did not watch any of the US presidential debates; insomnia is to blame again, here. I have a hard enough time falling asleep as it is without my brain being all excited over politics, both in terms of dwelling on what answers I liked, and what answers I did not like. As a result, my knowledge of what was said during the debates was limited to what was reported in the news and on the various blogs I follow.

Mitt Romney said a lot of stupid shit in the debate on Tuesday (binders full of women, eh?), which I expected. I've seen a lot of commentary regarding Romney's answer to the question of gun violence, in which he cited heterosexual marriage and parenting as the solution. Not only is this insulting to single-parent families and other non-heteronormative families, it comes across as a personal attack on President Obama, who spent parts of his live being raised by a single-mother. Hey, Romney, I haven't forgotten which one of you was the bully that helped hold a kid down and give him a haircut because you thought he was gay, and it definitely wasn't the guy in the single-parent household.

That being said, I wasn't at all pleased with President Obama's answer to that question, either:

So my belief is that A, we have to enforce the laws we’ve already got, make sure that we’re keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, those who are mentally ill. We’ve done a much better job in terms of background checks, but we’ve got more to do when it comes to enforcement.


And so what I want is a — is a comprehensive strategy. Part of it is seeing if we can get automatic weapons that kill folks in amazing numbers out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. But part of it is also going deeper and seeing if we can get into these communities and making sure we catch violent impulses before they occur.
Because my depression really makes me want to get my hands on an AK-47 and shoot up a public place. Thanks, Mr. Obama, I didn't know that about myself.

The idea that mentally ill people are more likely than anyone else to be violent is just as bullshit as Romney's suggestion that heteronormative marriage leads to less violent offspring. It's also insulting, as is the correlation Obama made between mentally ill people and criminals. Not only are mentally ill no more likely to be violent than someone who isn't, we're actually more likely to be the targets of crime, including violent crime (source). This is in part because of the negative stigma surrounding mental illness, a stigma that the President of the United States just helped to perpetuate.

Targeting the mentally ill is not going to reduce gun violence in the US. Personally, I think that what's needed is a serious overhaul in the way Americans view guns, as well as their precious Second Amendment. American politicians, however, seem to be unwilling to criticize a problematic gun culture, and so instead they draft ineffective laws that aim to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.

Obama's answer wasn't all bad; better enforcement of existing gun control laws is a good starting point, and trying to catch violent impulses before shit gets bad also sounds like an idea. Still, there was no need to give credence to an ableist, factually-incorrect stereotype about mentally ill people in the process. Part of Obama's gun control strategy should be protecting the mentally ill, not stigmatizing us.

I expected better from this president, and I'm kind of seething over how badly he fucked up with this question. I'll never express my anger with a gun, though.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Youth, poverty, and trying to make a difference

Go figure; I commit to writing more, and my health nose-dives again. For the record: insomnia sucks, 5am is a lousy bed time, and taking an MAOI makes it much more difficult to treat. I managed to sleep last night, though, and it was definitely the best sleep I've had in two weeks.

Almost three months after losing my job, I still haven't been able to find new employment. Granted, my health has gotten in the way of my search somewhat, but the bottom line is that my only income right now is EI, and it's very difficult to make ends meet with so little to work with. This is especially true in my particular corner of rural Nova Scotia; rent is inflated, and there's very little available in the way of assistance. Low-income housing is only available for seniors or families, and down-on-their-luck unemployed youth just don't have any resources available. No wonder so many of my former co-workers left town.

It just so happens to be municipal election season, so after I gave up on my search for some sort of housing assistance, I decided to look into candidates. Sadly, not many of them have websites, and those who set up Facebook pages just post things about where they've been canvassing around town, groups they met with, and so on, as opposed to campaign promises, their views on various issues, and so on. I eventually found some information on the website of the local weekly newspaper. Turns out I missed the mayoral debate, though according to the article the "big" issue was the local exhibition grounds and what it meant for town verses county relations. I suppose that's important, but for someone who might very soon have to leave town due to being unable to afford the rent, it's not a big priority.

I emailed both candidates and I told them my story: I'm twenty-six, not able-bodied, recently laid off, and I can't afford rent. I wrote about how many of my former co-workers left town when we lost our jobs, how young people-- many of whom are unemployed or under-employed-- simply can't afford to stay here, and how that's going to further damage an already depressed local economy. I asked them what they plan to do about ensuring that there's affordable housing for those who need it.

Both candidates replied back; one asked to meet me.

It turns out another problem youth have is that we're not very good at getting our voices heard.

Fortunately, the candidate I met with today is aware of the difficulties young people face in town, and housing difficulties in particular. The thing is, I was the first person to come forward and talk about the problem on a more personal level. I suppose I'm not entirely surprised that this is the case; young people tend to be more politically apathetic, even about the issues that directly affect us. The issues I addressed haven't really been discussed in previous council meetings, in part because the councillors don't think of these things, and in part because we youth aren't telling them. I was asked to get involved, and to share my experience and concerns with the newly-elected council.

So, tomorrow I'll be learning more about the local Poverty Reduction Council and the affordable housing initiative they're working on, as well as their other projects. This stuff is important, and while youth concerns are acknowledged, we need a voice, too-- so once I'm done talking, I'll be encouraging others to speak up, too.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Rob Anders opens his mouth, more shit comes out.

Last week, Conservative MP Rob Anders was in trouble for an especially nasty comment he made concerning late Opposition leader Jack Layton and current leader Thomas Mulcair. To quote:

Anders told iPolitics that one of the great stories journalists were missing was "that Mr. Mulcair, with his arm twisted behind the scenes, helped to hasten Jack Layton’s death."

"It was very clear to me watching the two of those gentlemen in the front benches, that Jack Layton was ill and that Mr. Mulcair was making it quite obvious that if Jack wasn't well enough to fight the campaign and fight the election that he should step aside, and that because of that, Mr. Layton put his life at risk to go into the national election, and fight it, and did obviously an amazing job considering his state of health, and that he did that partly because of the arm-twisting behind the scenes by Mulcair and then subsequently died," iPolitics reported Anders as saying.

Anders has since apologized for these comments, but not before Peter Stoffer, a well-like NDP MP,  called him a dickhead, which is probably about the politest thing one could call Anders considering how vile the man is. Layton's widow, Olivia Chow, has accepted the apology, and suggested that Anders sponsor her in her 5km charity run for Prostate Cancer Canada.

Anders is still a dickhead, however, and lest he lose his title, opened his mouth again and let more hateful comments spew forth from it. He has come under fire for circulating a petition on his website and at a local (presumably Calgary) church that asks MPs to vote against bill C279, which aims to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the hate crime section of the criminal code to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of gender identity and gender expression. According to Anders, however, "Its goal is to give transgendered men access to women’s public washroom facilities, [and] it is the duty of the House of Commons to protect and safeguard our children from any exposure and harm that will come from giving a man access to women’s public washroom facilities."

There is so much wrong with that statement, it's hard to know where to start. My first reaction was to facepalm over yet another transphobic asshole going on about bathrooms. I'm not the only one to react this way, either; Susan Gapka, chair of the Trans Lobby Group, pointed out to Anders that, "Trans people have been going to the washroom since the beginning of time." She also stated that Anders' "fear-mongering, storytelling and myth-making" is the reason why this bill is needed in the first place. Once again, trans people are accused of being pedophiles, as opposed to honest folk who just wanna take a piss in peace like everybody else.

NDP MP Randall Garrison is the bill's sponsor, and was quite polite in voicing his opposition to Anders' petition:
He said the comments made by Anders were either made out of ignorance or he is trying to spread fear about transgender people by equating them to sexual predators.

"He clearly doesn't understand the basic concepts to do with transgender Canadians," said Garrison.

He said the bill fills a gap because there are legal questions about whether transgender people are included in protections that are available to all other Canadians.


"I guess it's what I've come to expect from Mr. Anders ... time for his weekly apology," he said.

To date, Anders does not appear to have issued an apology.

Sadly, it doesn't appear that anyone has approached Peter Stoffer for his thoughts on the subject, either. Somebody should get on that.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Drugs and stuff.

I wish I could say that the reason why I haven't posted anything in two months is because I've been busy, but that has not been the case. I was laid off two and a half months ago, and since I didn't have anything better to do at the time, decided to change up my crazy pill cocktail. This meant being weaned off of the three medications I had been taking so that I could start a new one without any negative drug interactions.

The weaning process took a month, and it was absolute hell. My depressive symptoms returned the second week, at which point I stopped being able to sleep on top of everything else. There really wasn't anything that could be done to relieve my symptoms, either, short of trying to find a sleep aid out there that I haven't already tried (it's a long list) that would be compatible with the new anti-depressant my doctor wanted to try once the weaning was over (a much shorter list). After the detox, there was the usual four to six week waiting period before the new drug would reach a therapeutic level. Fortunately, it's there now, and while the hunt for a new sleep aid continues, I'm back to being a mostly-functional human being.

The anti-depressant my doctor wanted to try is called Parnate, or tranylcypromine. It's in that scary class of drugs known as a monoamine oxidase inhibitor, or MAOI. They've got a bad reputation in pop culture, and a bad reaction to an MAOI has been the cause of death in more than one episode of some crime drama or novel. There's also a wealth of bad information out there about this class of drugs, and what a person can and cannot ingest while taking one, and it makes them seem more dangerous than they actually are. Furthermore, I have to wonder if this bad reputation is the reason why I'm only trying a drug in this class now, after seven years of trying to treat my depression.

MAOIs work by inhibiting an enzyme called monoamine oxidase. Among other things, this enzyme aids in the metabolization of tyramine, a compound commonly found in food. If too much tyramine is ingested, it can lead to a hypertensive crisis-- high blood pressure, essentially. On TV, this means that if you eat a piece of cheese, you'll drop dead within minutes. In reality, though, this is unlikely, unless the person already has very high blood pressure. You might feel quite ill, and should probably seek medical attention if you experience symptoms of high blood pressure, but death is unlikely. Sorry to be the asshole to point out a medical inconsistency in CSI and the like. (I am not actually sorry.)

Anyway, now that my health is more stable, I hope to be updating this blog on a regular basis again.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Dan Cathy has the right to remain silent, or not

The more people talk about freedom of speech, the more I am forced to conclude that the average person does not know what freedom of speech really mean, or what rights it grants. It has been coming up a lot in response to Chick-fil-A COO Dan Cathy being a homophobe and saying homophobic things and donating money to homophobic organizations, and people deciding to boycott Chick-fil-A as a result (easy for me to do, as they don't have any locations in Canada), and other people countering that by making a point to visit Chick-fil-A to support Cathy and his free speech and blah blah blah.

Why do Cathy's supporters keep talking about freedom of speech in this context? His freedom of speech is not being threatened, and yet Cathy's allies keep citing that as a reason to support him. Some of his fiercest advocates are politicians, and they really should know better than to frame this as a free speech issue, seeing as the First Amendment (or Section 2 of the Charter, if you're Canadian) states that the government cannot prohibit people from expressing their opinions and beliefs. The government is not going to be passing laws anytime soon that will put Dan Cathy's right to spew homophobic vitriol at risk*, nor will the government stop him from donating money to homophobic organizations. Furthermore, because of his aforementioned support from various politicians, and the fact that he is free to donate obscene amounts of money to political campaigns and lobbyists who either agree with Cathy's statements, or at the very least wish to protect his right to say those things, I imagine that his First Amendment rights are safer than those of many of the people speaking out against him.

Nobody, least of all the government, is trying to take away Cathy's freedom of speech. Furthermore, if that was the intention, a boycott of Chick-fil-A isn't a very effective method of doing so. This isn't about free speech, and it never was.

What I think people are doing- perhaps intentionally so- is telling the public that because Cathy has the right to freedom of speech, he also has the right to be free from criticism of that speech. Here is a lesson for those many people who don't understand the First Amendment: if  you talk like an asshole, other people are equally free to tell you to shut the fuck up. Both Cathy and his opponents are protected by the same rights that many idiots seem to think people are trying to take away from Cathy. I feel like this should be blindingly obvious, but I guess not; I suspect some people are deliberately misinforming others about these rights, which is contributing to the confusion. Either way, the result is that people are hiding their homophobia behind this veil of free speech. People say they're standing behind Cathy and/or Chick-fil-A because they want to protect his rights; really, they just don't like gay people. They're supporting Cathy because they agree. in whole or in part, with the things he is saying, and pretend that they're sticking up for the First Amendement when really what they're doing is trying to silence those who would boycott Chick-fil-A. (What about their free speech, hmm?)

A boycott of Chick-fil-A doesn't threaten anybody's free speech, but it will cost Dan Cathy money. A successful boycott would mean that Cathy no longer has huge profits from this company that he can turn around and donate to homophobic organizations. If the result is just one less person being subjected to harmful "pray away the gay" techniques, that's a success.

Obviously I understand that some people may not support Cathy, but might still visit Chick-fil-A for reasons that may be outside of their control; personally, I hate that so many clothes and shoes are made in sweat shops, and I absolutely do not want to support companies that exploit their workforce, but I'm also low income and because of my back problems, there are very specific things I need when buying shoes. Sometimes, I have to give my hard-earned money to companies with practices I do not support because there's no affordable alternative. Many people, however, are in a position where eating at Chick-fil-A is a choice, and those people should be aware that their money is going to homophobic organizations. If you do not support those organizations, you should not spend your money there.

Finally, to the people who try and claim that this is a free speech issue, please shut up-- and I say that not because I'm trying to take away your precious rights, but because you need to stop talking and learn more about what the First Amendment actually means.

* I realize that hate speech laws may limit the vitriol a person can spew, but I'm not familiar with how they work in the United States, nor do I know whether or not LGBTQI people are protected by hate speech laws. From what I know of Canadian hate speech laws though, I'm pretty sure Cathy's statements, however repugnant, are not in violation of those laws.