Saturday, March 29, 2008

What They Really Said

There were several news stories about the exchange out in Clarksburg the other night between the mother of a bullied child and County Council member George Leventhal. Mostly they have been summaries, Fox 5 slanted it outrageously, The Gazette gave us the news but boiled it down, The Sentinel had the story but none of it was clear.

With us being a blog and all, we're not trying to sell papers, we don't have to summarize what people meant when they said something, we can tell you what they said. Well, and I'm sure to mention what I think about it.

The story is this. At town hall meeting, a lady told the County Council that her daughter was being bullied in school because she was small. She also talked about the transgender bill. The Council members took turns responding. Leventhal talked about the fact that gay students are bullied a lot. Afterwards, people were "confused" and "outraged" by his comments. Most of us who weren't there were confused about what in the world had actually happened.

Through all of it, the question has been, what did the lady actually say, and what did Leventhal say? I got the video and transcribed the relevant parts. The lady, Valerie Ricardo, spoke, then a bunch of Council members whose words I did not transcribe, then Leventhal, then Ms. Ricardo again.

Here's her initial question:
Hi, I'm Valerie Ricardo, and we're a family of Mongtomery County. I have two daughters in the Montgomery County Public School system. My youngest daughter, who entered into sixth grade this year was harassed and bullied for the first four months, just because she was small. She had also incurred a head trauma and she was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder for fifteen months. She went into the school system feeling of course very vulnerable when she saw students knocking books and tripping other students in the hallway. There was a lot that was out of control. And last year the Gazette reported that nine thousand students were suspended, within the Montgomery County school system, that violence is on the rise, and that things are very much out of hand. I would venture to say that we are failing our children, we are failing the homosexuals, we are failing the transgenders, because we are failing our children. Our children need secure environments, they need stability, the family needs support, and I want to know what you are doing currently within the school system to provide the structure, the order, and the means necessary to provide security and stability to the families of Montgomery County.

I do need to say this, that I have a very good friend, Mister Robert Shaw, who was a part of the drive, the signature drive, he's a very lovely man, he's a teacher, thirty two years in Montgomery County school system, is passionate about his beliefs, was extremely upset that he did not see appropriate exemptions in the bill that are also actually also in other bills of this nature, and he personally wanted to do something about it so that there would be appropriate exclusions. He was alone one day in front of Leisure World Giant and he was harassed by five transgenders, one being I think the person that is in question. He is also doing a great community service in a homework club within a very diverse area for the last three years and he's just so wonderfully respected and honored by all men.

So, that being the case, I have one more comment. I had a conversation, excuse me I'm very dry, I had a conversation with a lovely transgender male in February, a real sweetheart, just a love, and we had a very wonderful dialog. But March fourth, sitting in front of this woman's house, speaking with my friend Delores, I was approached by a man with an exaggerated walk, a female walk, and there was an evil -- and I didn't know this person, there was evil intent in his eye. And he came at me in a very threatening way. If it hadn't have been for Delores I don't know what would have happened in that situation, and I went home feeling very afraid, almost like my daughter, feeling very vulnerable, feeling very afraid, wondering what would have happened if Delores wasn't there, or if I was a child. So I want to say that the risk is real, and I think that we need to take these situations of violence, and bullying, and crazy situations for what they are and begin to do something about it.

I took out the uhs and go-backs, and this is pretty close to her words as she chose them. This being a blog and all, I will note that she does have at least three topics going on here -- her daughter's situation at school, something about the nondiscrimination bill and a guy being hassled collecting signatures, and then a scary thing with a person of questionable gender characteristics and obvious evil intent.

I will say that if Mister Robert Shaw is the guy we saw at Leisure World, he had a friendly conversation with three transgender people, and two of us executives from TTF World Headquarters were on the scene but are not transgender, and I didn't even talk to the guy, I was walking around taking pictures. He ended up giving a big hug to Maryanne and packing up his petition stuff so he could go home. That was at Leisure World Giant, but I thought that guy's name was Jeff. I'm pretty sure there were not five transgender people at Leisure World at any time.

Anyway, Valerie Ricardo gave what we call a "rambling monologue," and I wouldn't want to be the politician who tried to respond to her.

Other Council members addressed her, and last was George Leventhal. Here's what he said:
The issue of bullying in school is a extremely serious but I would like to acknowledge one very important fact and that is is that the victims of bullying in so many cases are young people who over the course of their lives are gay. And when we're having this conversation about fear and not indulging in stereotypes and trying to come together as a community I just hope we can all have this conversation if we're going to have a referendum, in a way that expresses the love in our hearts and the desire to come together as a community and our desire to avoid fear and prejudice and stereotyping which is what I'm hearing this woman express. So let us acknowledge that in many, many, many cases it is the victims, it is gay people who are themselves the victims of violence and bullying and stereotyping and prejudice. Let's at least put that on the table and be honest about it.

I think the key to understanding his brief speech is in his use of the phrase "our desire to avoid fear and prejudice and stereotyping which is what I'm hearing this woman express." I was hearing fear and prejudice and stereotyping in what she said, and I think that's what Leventhal was reacting to. She saying, my daughter is getting bullied and I'm afraid of these other people who threaten me because I don't know what they're going to do but they look weird and they're sure to do something horrible. So he was saying, maybe, your daughter's getting bullied but these people you're speaking badly about get bullied a whole lot, too, let's remember that that's happening while we're talking about your daughter.

In other words, lady, you have a problem, and you are a problem.

Maybe I'm reading that into what he said, but I like it.

Did you get the thing about the person with the exaggerated walk? She had a moment of fear, therefore "the risk is real." I hope I never get like that.

Ms. Ricardo still had the microphone in front of her, so she kept talking. Here's what else she said:
Let me just say that I actually, when I was small and little, that I was also bullied and victimized, and I know that many people have been that I'm in a relationship with that are not gay, so I think that the means to provide answers and solution in this, we need to provide a solution for the whole, but Mr. Elrich I have been of course a childrens advocate for a very long time, and I've been thinking about these issues, and I believe that I have solutions and answers that can be implemented with your help, into the school system that should definitely be taken a serious look. And I would be very interested in meeting with you, and maybe Mike Knapp, in providing the ideas that I believe can be implemented to be effective, because that's what needs to happen, we need to be effective and we need to secure and stabilize the children within the school system and offer hope to the family.

Okay, that's nothing, it's just there for completeness, so you know. This lady has the answers and hopes the County Council will invite her over to solve their problems for them. Good luck with all that.

The video is clear, this is well produced. You see everybody's faces clearly. This lady's daughter gets bullied in school, just like she did when she was a kid, and she wants the County Council to do something about it. That's a legitimate concern, the Council manages the school district, in some indirect way it's probably good for them to hear that there is a problem in the schools, at least you can't blame a mom for going to the top with her complaint. The other thing was the transgender bill. She mentions "the drive," meaning the Citizens for a Responsible Whatever's drive to get signatures for a referendum to overturn the nondiscrimination law, and a guy who was "harassed by five transgenders." Then she tells a weird story about some scary person with evil intent in their eye. It sounds like nothing actually happened, the person had "an exaggerated walk, a female walk." That's it. The risk is real.

She asked the Montgomery County Council to make the world less crazy. What will they do to make the world more secure, more stable? It's a fascinating problem, the instability of the world, the craziness of life, and the County Council may be in over their heads if they are asked to take care of that. There is a different problem, though, which is people who think the world would be less crazy and more secure if strange people would just act normal, and then go around trying to get that to happen.

Imagine somebody out there thinking that somebody else's walk is living proof that the risk is real, that somebody is so frightening just walking down the street that the authorities need to do something about them. Having watched this video several times, I do believe George Leventhal was telling this lady that there is a big problem out there, and that her stereotyping, her fear of somebody different, is the problem. Fox5 can turn it around, this mom is outraged because the politician switched the subject on her, but the fact is, she was expressing a point of view that needed to be called out, and Leventhal did that. He talked about the "fear and prejudice and stereotyping which is what I'm hearing this woman express." Maybe upcounty folks carrying signs calling for the re-legalization of discrimination don't want to hear that, maybe they thought this lady made some kind of sense, but I think he hit the nail on the head. Gay and transgender kids get bullied and hassled more than anybody, there's no question about that. It's a big problem, and this kindly-sounding lady is only making it worse.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Sprigg Apologizes

Box Turtle Bulletin and ExGay Watch both have this story already, but since it has a local angle I think I'll put it up here, too.

We first heard of Peter Sprigg when the Citizens for a Responsible ... Curriculum ... had their town hall meeting in 2005. Some of us attended and you couldn't shower enough afterwards to get the dirty feeling off you. We refer to that meeting at the "Hate Fest." You can read transcripts of the main speeches and hear them HERE.

One of the speakers was Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council. When I first heard of that group, I thought maybe they had something to do with families, or research, or that they were a council. None of the above, sorry, they exist to oppose gay people. Of all the speakers that day, Sprigg worried me the most because he was actually able to put a sentence together, he was articulate and charming, and it sounded like he knew what he was talking about. If you look into any of the "facts" he cites, you realize they are bogus science or hardly more than rumors, but he runs them by you so fast you think he's saying something.

Since then we have seen Peter, who lives in our county, as PFOX's designated member of the MCPS citizens advisory committee.

I haven't been following this controversy, but apparently when an American is married to a person with foreign citizenship, the government lets the foreigner stay here. But if they're gay, if I'm understanding this correctly, the government deports the foreign half of the couple. Okay, that's a bad deal, agreed.

Not hard to guess what Sprigg's view on this is. He said in an interview last week:
I would much prefer to export homosexuals from the United States than to import them into the United States because we believe that homosexuality is destructive to society.

Box Turtle Bulletin awarded him the LaBarbera Award, which is, let's say, not a good thing, for these comments.

Yesterday on the Family Research Council's blog, Peter apologized for what he said:
In response to a question regarding bi-national same-sex couples who are separated by an international border, I used language that trivialized the seriousness of the issue and did not communicate respect for the essential dignity of every human being as a person created in the image of God. I apologize for speaking in a way that did not reflect the standards which the Family Research Council and I embrace.

I'd like to know what went into that. Why does he care all of a sudden about the "essential dignity" of gay people? He's saying that gay people were created in the image of God? Maybe I'm not getting something here, but his original words did seem to reflect the standards of the Family Research Council, they were consistent with everything else that comes out of there. Peter didn't apologize when as a "homosexuality detection expert" he was quoted alleging that SpongeBob SquarePants was supporting the homosexual agenda and that words like "tolerance" and "diversity" are part of a "coded language that is regularly used by the homosexual community." So why is he apologizing now?

Our battle here has been mostly against stupid people, people who can't see nuances of anything. People who define their sexuality -- we've actually heard them say this -- by looking down in the shower. Whatever you see tells you all you need to know, who you should fall in love with, what you should act like. Peter isn't like that, that's what makes him so dangerous. He's actually kind of likable, one of those examples of the banality of evil that so confuse people. In the school controvery, he seemed to be the only one on their side who understood that the other members of the citizens committee were actually taking his and the other rightwingers' ideas seriously, even though we obviously didn't agree with them, and were giving them a fair chance to make a point. He can be reasonable, but you can't trust him. He's agenda-driven, and the agenda is one that marginalizes people who deserve to be active participating members of our society as a whole, treats good people as a threat, encourages other good people -- straight people, religious people -- to stereotype and despise others based on irrelevant characteristics.

So what's up with this apology?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Council Member Gets Threats

Montgomery county recently passed a new law protecting the rights of transgender people. It added the term "gender identity" to the existing nondiscrimination bill, along with race, religion, and other things. The County Council voted unanimously, the County Executive signed it without hesitation, this county is that kind of place. Well, there are lots of places with that kind of law, we're not uniquely liberal, we're just pretty progressive.

The word went out to the, let's say, nutty side of the world, and the letters started coming in. We've covered it here, you had a guy from PFOX saying he hoped the council members daughters got raped, you had a leader of the Republican Party shouting "heil Hitler" in a Council meeting, you had rambling presentations and protests with attendance nearly into the double digits.

Mostly we make fun of those people. There are ignorant ones, people who don't know any better, and we would like to make them stop and think for a minute, and get over it. They don't necessarily mean harm, they just haven't thought some of this through. And there are the hateful ones. We would like to stop them, simply, we expose their lies and faulty logic, and there's nothing left. But sometimes it gets scary, even though we treat them like clowns sometimes they aren't clowns, they're people, and some of them are seriously crazy.

Story from The Sentinel:
Now she says it's personal and dangerous.

During the last two months, Councilmember Duchy Trachtenberg claims she has received dozens of threats, many of them death threats, from community members opposed to a bill she sponsored that guarantees civil rights for transgender individuals.

According to Trachtenberg, several people sent about 40 pieces of threatening correspondence to her home and office. Many of them were signed, she said, though some used fake names. Some were signed by members of Citizens for a Responsible Government, a group trying to get Trachtenberg's legislation repealed.

"These threats are directed at me because I have been a proponent for and sponsor of legislation protecting the rights of LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] individuals," Trachtenberg said. "I find it disturbing that these kinds of threats can be made so openly to public officials, threatening their safety."

Michelle Turner, a spokesperson for CRG, said the group doesn't send or support sending threatening letters. "We don't advocate anything like that at all," Turner said. "We're not in this to speak ill of any group or stand in judgment."

A senior policy analyst in Trachtenberg's office, Dr. Dana Beyer, also received threatening correspondence, the council member said. Beyer has been an outspoken opponent to CRG's petition. Trachtenberg Reports Death Threats

Michelle says her group doesn't do this. I'll bet there are two or three of them who get together sometimes and decide a little strategy, let's have a protest or let's go to this or that with signs, and I'll bet you that they really don't say, let's threaten the Council members (or school board members before this). But somehow those kinds of things keep happening, it's not the organization itself but its members, and how do you separate the two?
In November the County Council unanimously passed bill 23-07, a piece of legislation Trachtenberg sponsored that protects transgender individuals against discrimination in housing and employment. Members of CRG believe the law gives pedophiles and sexual predators easy access to women's bathrooms and locker rooms.

Earlier this month CRG submitted a petition to the Montgomery County Board of Elections putting a referendum question about repealing what has become known as the Transgender Legislations on the ballot in November. Last week Equality Maryland, the state's largest LGBT advocacy group, filed a lawsuit against the county Board of Elections alleging an improper count.

Turner added that the leaders of CRG prefer a diplomatic approach. "We would be happy to sit down with Duchy [Trachtenberg] and have a civilized dialogue," Turner said. "Unfortunately she's a little hard to get a hold of. Plus, given the attitudes of many of those on the council, it doesn't seem like something they'd want to do."

What the word I'm looking for, disingenuous? A bill doesn't just appear on the floor one day, they vote, and it's done. There was a long process of preparing this thing, these people could have gotten involved at any point. I don't believe it is impossible to schedule a meeting with Council members or their staff, to present your arguments, your facts, and make a persuasive case regarding a pending bill. They say they tried, because one of them once gave an incoherent monologue at public comments, no that's not how it works, if you care you can work with these people.

In typical form, they decided to try to sponsor a referendum after the fact, rather than making their wishes known while the law was being discussed. Oh, and cleverly, they told everybody the real problem has to do with perverted men going into ladies locker-rooms. I really couldn't believe it when they first came out with that, but they have stuck with it, and they got some people to sign those petitions.

There is news coming on that topic, not today, soon.
Trachtenberg said that Sharon Kass, a member of CRG, has sent harassing letters to both her and Beyer. She said Kass suggested in one letter that Trachtenberg should worry about handling her own family before taking on these other issues. Trachtenberg has a son with schizophrenia.

Turner said, however, that Kass is more of a "supporter, and not what we consider a member."

Kass could not be reached for comment by press time, but she replied to an e-mail from The Sentinel requesting comment with e-mails containing anti-gay literature, including a brochure titled "Gay! You don't have to be," and a link to an article titled, "The Desire For A Sex Change: Psychiatrist says sex-change surgery is a collaboration with a mental disorder, not a treatment."

"Every organization has a fringe element - not to say she's on the fringe," Turner said. "We don't necessarily agree with everything she has to say. But don't quote me on that."

Ooch! Sorry Michelle, that's happened to me, too. You say something to a reporter with a pencil in their hand, guess what, it gets in the news. At least this reporter had a sense of humor and quoted you asking not to be quoted. Pretty cool self-referential humor, nice.

I'm not going to say anything about Sharon Kass, because ... I'm afraid to. We have received letters sent to our homes, our children have received letters, we get email from Ms. Kass. We are aware of Sharon Kass.
Trachtenberg said Beyer's two sons were mentioned in one e-mail, saying they are doomed to psychological problems because Beyer is a transgender individual.

One of Beyer's sons is a student at Brown University, the other at the University of Maryland. Beyer could not be reached for comment by press time because County Council is on recess this week.

Trachtenberg declined to release copies of the threatening correspondences because she said police are investigating threats made repeatedly by some individuals. She added that several restraining orders might be issued as a result of the threats.

She read parts of a few letters to The Sentinel over the phone. "Put an end to Bill 23-07 or you won't live too long," said one, signed, Mr. Walker. Others were extremely vulgar, including one that said, "S*** a tranny's d***."

"I think they're just trying to intimidate a council member who is standing up for what's right," Trachtenberg said.

And look, of all the things. How about the environment, development, traffic, crime, prices of stuff, the war? Isn't there something more important? That's the thing that gets me. You can't discriminate against transgender people, so what, when was that ever a problem? How inconvenient is that going to be?
Extra security measures have been taken at the County Council building, and Trachtenberg said she is in the process of installing a home security system because of the threats.

"This isn't the first time I've had death threats made to me," Trachtenberg said. "I've had some threats made because of the feminist work I've done, mostly in relation to reproductive rights."

Still, Trachtenberg said, she is still jarred by the threats. "My husband goes through the mail at home now because he knows how upset I get when I find those things," she said.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Gay Scientists Identify the Christian Gene

Oh come on, you've gotta think this is funny.

Confusion Over Comments at the Town Hall Meeting

Man, this is almost making me wish I'd gone to that County Council town hall meeting the other night. I was told that a woman had spoken about her daughter being bullied in school and about the new transgender law. She seemed to confuse people, because at first she seemed to be arguing against bullying at school, but then she was against discrimination against transgender people and also opposed to the new gender identity nondiscrimination law. I wasn't there, I don't know how she put it.

Looking back at my email, the woman, Valerie Ricardo, was described to me as "beautiful, well dressed, articulate" and she was respectful and polite. It sounds like her presentation to the Council mainly confused people. She told about her daughter, and then regarding the new law she said that we are all failing the homosexual community and the transgender community by not including the appropriate language and exclusions in this bill so that everyone will be clear as to its meaning as regards the use of facilities (I am told). OK, that's an interesting way to put it, pretty smart to argue against it as if it doesn't go far enough. Ms. Ricardo then told a story about being harassed and threatened by a possible transgender person at her friend Dolores' house. She was vague about the incident, but something had happened that frightened her. The email to me said that Ms Ricardo strongly approves of being non-discriminatory, but that she had expressed a great deal of concern for herself and her daughter as regards this kind of "confrontation", and ended by saying that "the threat is real".

I know there is video of this meeting, and it may be necessary at some point to go back to the tape.

Several Council members responded to Ms. Ricardo's comments, including Council member George Leventhal; here it is almost impossible to pick out the contextual relevance of what he said.

Leventhal's comments included the notion that gay and transgender students get bullied in school. This is true, and it is a nontrivial issue, but it should be noted that Ms. Ricardo believed her daughter had been bullied because she was small, and had said nothing about her being gay. So maybe Leventhal conflated two topics, and maybe there was something else going on that made his comment sensible.

Anyway, first of all Fox 5 got hold of it, in their Foxish way:
A mother in Montgomery County made a desperate plea for help after her daughter was bullied and teased at school, but was left confused and outraged by the answer she received from a county councilman.

Valerie Ricardo brought up her concerns about bullying during the town hall-style meeting after reportedly four months of harassment.

The response County Councilman George Leventhal gave: "The issue of bullying in schools is extremely serious, but I would like to acknowledge one very important fact, and that is that the victims of bullying in so many cases are young people, who, over the course of their lives, are gay."

"It was a strange comment he interjected sexual orientation which had nothing to do with the core issue," Ricardo told Fox 5. "It undermines what my daughter went through and it undermines what a lot of children are going through."

Ricardo says her daughter has been kicked, poked, and called names for almost a year at school. She thinks it's because she's too small to defend herself.

Council member Leventhal did not want to be interviewed on camera but says he's comfortable with what he said and stands by his comments. Councilman's Comments Tie Bullying to Sexuality

Not everybody was real happy with Fox 5's coverage of this story, you might say. For one thing, they left out the fact that the woman herself had been discussing discrimination against gay and transgender people.

Yesterday's Gazette goes into the issue more thoroughly.
A county councilman has drawn fire over a comment concerning gays and bullying, but an area gay rights advocate has come to his defense.

At a town hall meeting in Clarksburg last week, Councilman George L. Leventhal said many victims of bullying are gay after a resident commented about that her daughter was being bullied at school.
‘‘It was totally inappropriate,” said Kathie Hulley, president of the Clarksburg Civic Association. ‘‘If the County Council is going to come out to a town meeting and somebody in distress asks a question, to go off on a tangent, which has no bearing to what she was asking, is really bad.”

Councilman Marc Elrich, who also attended the meeting, said ‘‘I don’t know why [Leventhal] went there.”

But Dan Furmansky, executive director of Equality Maryland, said Leventhal’s comments were being misconstrued.

‘‘Within the context of a discussion in which people were criticizing the county’s [anti-discrimination law regarding transgender individuals], which is up for referendum, Councilman Leventhal was simply trying to point out that gender non-conforming and [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] students face a higher rate of bullying,” Furmansky said. Councilman’s remark defended by gay rights advocate

That is the question: were Leventhal's comments misconstrued? He was speaking to a more or less hostile upcounty audience, they aren't all that happy with the gay thing, the transgender thing, in the first place, and a lot of them were there to oppose the new nondiscrimination law. So they were primed to react negatively when somebody spoke out against bullying of gay and transgender students. The Council members had to know they were walking into a minefield here before the meeting even started.
Leventhal’s statement came during a standing-room-only town hall meeting Wednesday at Little Bennett Elementary School. During a question-and-answer segment, Derwood resident Valerie Ricardo described how her daughter was being bullied at an area middle school. Ricardo went on to discuss the county’s anti-discrimination law covering transgendered individuals, and also discussed her fears of being approached by ‘‘a man with an exaggerated walk, a female walk” and ‘‘evil intent in his eye.”

‘‘So I want to say that the risk is real and I think that we need to take these situations of violence and bullying and crazy situations for what they are and begin to do something about it,” Ricardo ended her statement.

Three other council members responded to Ricardo’s statement, then Leventhal said the issue of bullying in schools is extremely serious. He then said, according to a transcript of the session provided by his office: ‘‘The victims of bullying in so many cases are young people, who, over the course of their lives, are gay.”

Okay, this is sounding more to me like something that has been blown out of proportion. Of course gay students are bullied, duh, it is a problem. And Leventhal was even careful not to describe a schoolchild as gay, but to note that "over the course of their lives" they are gay.
The interaction was first reported last Thursday night by WTTG-Fox 5 News. The station’s story drew criticism from Furmansky and Leventhal.

‘‘Fox 5 badly distorted my remarks and took them out of context,” said Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park. ‘‘Bullying is a serious issue for all victims. My expression was the hope that we would view all of our neighbors with love and tolerance.”

Elrich was still scratching his head a week later.

‘‘The only thing I can think he was going for was that gays get bullied more than other kids, but that was totally irrelevant to her concern,” said Elrich (D-At large) of Takoma Park. ‘‘I felt the appropriate answer was the way we could try to help kids not bully each other.”

Elrich is a good guy, he's on our side, and he was there, I take it, and he's confused. Well, I wouldn't want to be one of those guys. Every time they open their mouth somebody puts it in the paper or on TV. It sounds like Leventhal's response missed answering the lady's question, and tried to put her two points together, and ... it sounds like that didn't exactly work very well.
Before Ricardo’s comments, several speakers in the audience questioned council members about the county’s new transgender law. The law expands the county’s existing law to prohibit discrimination against transgendered people in housing, employment, cable television and taxi service. Opponents of the law collected enough signatures to have the law put on the ballot in November as a referendum.

‘‘The way I took Leventhal’s comment was that a majority of gay kids are bullied which is the case,” said Councilwoman Duchy Trachtenberg, who was also at the meeting.

Trachtenberg (D-At large) of North Bethesda would not comment on whether Leventhal’s comments were out of order.

‘‘Apparently there are people who thought they heard something else and I really can’t comment on what they thought they heard,” she said. ‘‘Also, I think the mom who asked the question did combine different levels of issues because at the end she did get into commentary about the transgender bill and that wasn’t involved in the issue about her daughter directly.”

At some point I'm going to have to watch the video of this. It appears to be a pure matter of interpretation. Leventhal's comments, it does sound like, missed the point, because the lady's daughter is not bullied for her sexual orientation or gender identity but for another reason. On the other hand, the lady herself had brought up the question of discrimination against gay and transgender people, and it sounds like she was on both sides of the fence there, saying she was opposed to discrimination but also opposed to the nondiscrimination law and also threatened by a man who walked like a woman. You can hardly blame Leventhal for being confused there.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter: The World Comes Back to Life

Man, look at this Easter morning. This is definitely a good time to have a celebration. Everything is rising from the dead. There is not a cloud to be seen. There is more traffic than the usual Sunday morning on my street, I am guessing people are going to see family and going to church. I think Easter is more than a religious holiday, though I do think of it as being the biggest Christian holiday, bigger symbolically than Christmas. The eggs, the bunnies, the hats, I love all of that as well as the profound symbolism of the resurrection.

This week there was a County Council meeting that I didn't go to, a town hall meeting upcounty that the Citizens for a Responsible Whatever had sent out a newsletter about. They wanted all the shower-nuts to show up and tell the council they don't like the new gender identity nondiscrimination law.

I have some friends who are transgender, the ones I am thinking of used to be men and now they are women. I'm a social psychologist and the interesting thing to me is the social aspect of it. The "problem" is that somebody feels like something inside but people who talk to them don't see it, they don't realize how the person sees themselves, they think they are talking to a guy and they talk like they talk to a guy. It appears to me that the interpersonal connection is the showstopper, you might feel like a woman but really there is no problem with that, you can feel like whatever you want, the problem occurs when you talk to other people. So there's a lot to do with clothes and physical features, appearances, which just really means how you appear in the eyes of other people. Gender identity is a complex subject and requires a leap of empathy to understand, but it is understandable, these aren't Martians or something, they're like somebody who is fat but didn't used to be, and is always surprised when people address them as a fat person. I'll probably hear from them about that, yikes, back off, ladies! The fact is, of course it's impossible for me to know how it feels to be them, but the people I'm thinking of are smart, funny, brave people and I trust that their accounts of their experience are credible and real. There's certainly nothing threatening about it, no risk to anybody at all, the worst thing is that it's a little hard to understand.

So several people went to the town hall meeting and sent me email about it, and they were all in a way different, because each report gave a first-person account featuring the narrator. Well, one was pretty objective. I am going to try to piece together what happened at the meeting, and then I do hope people will fill in details in the comments.

The meeting was held Wednesday night in Clarksburg, which is a little north of Germantown. There are some things going on up there, there is an issue about development and they should be concerned about getting their share of the county budget, which, as you might have read, has some issues. But the main topics at the meeting were school redistricting, which the County Council doesn't have anything to do with, and ... yes, the shower-nuts.

There is an issue with a carousel in Wheaton Regional Park that the people in Clarksburg want moved up there, I think. Perfect topic for a town hall meeting. Development districting, same thing, good to get community feedback on that. There was discussion of the behavior of the cop assigned to patrol the high school in Damascus. Sounds like he gets out of line occasionally, well, cops and teenagers, that can be a bad combination. And is this right, that if you complain they won't look at it unless you have the complaint notarized?

There were several people in the front with “Stop Bill 23-07” signs, where 23-07 is the nondiscrimination bill. Also another guy in the back with a sign like “Protect my personal privacy. Stop 23-07.” I wonder how the law affects his personal privacy, well I guess I missed the chance to ask him. Maybe he's worried about naked women coming into the men's showers. I'll admit, that's a problem that doesn't worry me a bit.

Somebody spoke up about the nondiscrimination bill, saying that the Council had ignored the emails and letters it received. If I may remind you, some of those emails and letters were pretty weird, hoping council members' daughters would be raped, there was a Republican Party leader shouting "heil Hitler" in the Council meeting, actually it's good for them if the emails and letters are ignored.

Something was mentioned which I do know something about. Someone at the meeting talked about "five transgender people" surrounding a person gathering petition signatures and harassing them. We've heard this talk before. This is going to be a little hard for them to convince the public, especially since I have photographs and everything HERE. This has to be what they were talking about, you won't find five transgender people in the same place very often but one day Christine and I were having coffee at Starbucks with three transgender women, when we came across a guy getting signatures. They stood and talked with him, I walked around taking pictures, Christine sometimes joined the conversation, and it was all very friendly. The guy might have felt bad afterwards, because he basically deserted his station, he said he needed to go home and pray and think about the topic, and he left. I'm sure the shower-nuts were not happy to see those pictures on the Internet, but the fact is, when you meet these people you realize they are the farthest thing from the predators and pedophiles that the CRW wants you to think of. Anyway, there was no surrounding, no harassment, no five transgender people, it's just a normal example of the kind of things the CRW folks say to make it appear there is a problem when there isn't.

Somebody complained to the council about the fact that there is no exemption for religious institutions in the bill. Let me get this right. These people are saying there should be special wording that says it's okay for a church or religious school or whatever to discriminate against people? Do racist churches have special wording regarding racial discrimination? Do they realize how often this is going to come up? How many transgender people do you think are going to be applying for jobs at fundamentalist churches in Montgomery County? Is there actually a religion with a doctrine about gender identity? Why does somebody stand up in public and talk about the "problem" that there is no religious exemption in the nondiscrimination law? Maybe it's me, but I end up with the feeling there must be some other reason they feel the law should allow discrimination against transgender people.

It sounds like Duchy Trachtenberg spoke forcefully on the topic. First of all, somebody had said that her staff member had harassed people with petitions. The CRW had put a few-second-long video on YouTube, showing Dana Beyer -- who works for Trachtenberg -- telling some people that they didn't have permission from Giant and would be asked to leave. Let me mention something that we haven't said before. Some of the people who carried the petitions were just ordinary people, maybe they heard about this in church or something and thought there was an actual problem with men in the ladies room. But the people at the table that Dana went up to were not that, not gullible locals, those were people we have known for a long time, olde thyme anti-gay radicals. One of them was the central person, the letter-signer, when the rightwing minority tried to rebel against the citizens advisory committee over the sex-ed curriculum back in 2004. Google [retta] and you will find a lot of mentions here, and she also used to comment here as "Bianca," Google for that, too, and see what you find. While you're at it, Google for "Steina," who appears to be the other person in the video. These are hard-core rightwingers, not somebody you walk up to and harass and it intimidates them.

Trachtenberg also told the audience that she had received death threats at home, real threats, not somebody saying somebody didn't have permission to be somewhere. I'm sorry it comes down to that, one side claiming harassment just because somebody says something to them, and then actually threatening someone's life for sponsoring a bill to prevent discrimination. From the reports I got, it sounds like Duchy made the point loud and clear, too, that this bill is about discrimination, and it is devious to pretend it is about locker-rooms and modesty. She told the crowd that no other jurisdictions have had a problem with bathrooms, which is of course true.

Someone describing the meeting to me said that when Trachtenberg told about death threats, "the room went stone cold quiet." CRW type people don't want to hear about that sort of thing.

A couple of other people spoke about the nondiscrimination bill, it sounds like. It also sounds like the upcounty audience was mostly not friendly to the idea of banning discrimination against transgender people. That's fine, we live in a county that is part city and part country, it has its Blue and its Red areas, and this meeting was up in the Red part. The bulk of the population lives down in the denser areas, of course, and the more liberal, more urban opinions tend to get their way here. I imagine it is sometimes frustrating to live out there in the country and feel that nobody cares about what you think. First of all it was black people, then gay people, and now this, the government is intruding in your life etcetera. There are plenty of places in America where everybody's like that, and the elected officials enact their wishes. I'm glad not to live in one of those places, but there's nothing personal there.

I am told that at the end of the meeting, Duchy Trachtenberg was cornered by a group of people, and the police had to break up the confrontation.

I am sitting here on a beautiful Easter, with a lovely song on the radio about Jesus helping me lay my burden down. Outside my kitchen window all the world is coming back to life. I admit sometimes I don't get it, I don't understand why some people think the most important thing in the world, the thing that drives them to organize and set up web sites and write letters, phone people, would be a law that prevents discrimination against the smallest, most vulnerable, least threatening minority you can think of. Aren't there real problems out there that they could speak out about?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Oh, Good: CRW Has Backup Petitions

The Gazette has the story from the Citizens for a Responsible Whatever's point of view this week.
A citizens group mobilized to fight a change to a county anti-discrimination law defended the methods it used to collect signatures to bring the measure to the ballot in November.

Equality Maryland, a gay rights group based in Silver Spring, filed suit Friday saying the Montgomery County Board of Elections erred in accepting the petitions collected by Citizens for Responsive Government.

‘‘Equality Maryland is doing what they think they have to do,” CRG spokeswoman Michelle Turner said. ‘‘We collected 32,000 signatures and the Board of Elections validated nearly 27,000 of them. We also have backup petitions. We just have to wait and see what the Board of Elections says. We followed the guidelines and all the rules set forth by the Board of Elections and we stand by it.” Group defends signatures collected in petition drive

Okay, tell me, do you get that? The petitions were due a month ago. What is a "backup petition?"

Of course they have to defend their signatures. They told people that the law allowed pedophiles and predators to go in the ladies locker room, people signed the petitions, and now there may be a problem, weird. Who would have anticipated that one?

Oh, also, she is a little wrong here. We don't have to wait and see what the Board of Elections says -- they've already said their part. Now we just have to wait to see what a judge says. It appears that the CRW broke nearly every law regarding the collection of signatures for a referendum, now the court has been asked sort it out.
At issue is a bill, approved by the County Council and signed by County Executive Isiah Leggett, that would extend anti-discrimination protections to transgendered people.

The lawsuit listed 12 plaintiffs, including two transgendered people identified only as Jane Doe and John Doe for fear of losing their jobs. Enforcement of the anti-discrimination law was put on hold after CRG began the petition drive to put it to a referendum.

Bad to think somebody could lose their job for participating in our American democracy. Oh, I see, it's says here they are transgender, they can lose their jobs. That wouldn't have been the case if the new law had been allowed to go into effect. These people had better be careful, don't use your name.
After it was passed, CRG created a Web site,, which provided ‘‘inflammatory, inaccurate, misleading and untrue statements about the bill, its proponents, the individuals it protects from discrimination, and its effect if enacted into law,” according to the lawsuit filed by Silver Spring attorney Jonathan S. Shurberg, who was hired by Equality Maryland.

State and county election codes require petitioners to provide ‘‘fair and accurate” information to signers, Shurberg said.

The elections board followed state election law in certifying the signatures, board spokeswoman Marjorie Roher said.

The web site: not my shower dot net. Funny they wouldn't call it "re-legalize discrimination dot net," or "forced conformity dot net." To these people it really is all about the shower.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

CRW Sounding a Little Unenthusiastic

The Citizens for a Responsible Whatever don't seem quite as cheerful as usual in today's newsletter. It may be occurring to them that their big plans are unraveling.

Tonight the Montgomery County Council is having a town hall meeting at Little Bennett Elementary School in Clarksburg, at 8 o'clock. Looks like the CRW would like to rally the troops to show up and ask questions about bathrooms.

Here's how they put it:
On Wednesday March 19 (Today) we have a wonderful opportunity to ask the Council questions about this ridiculous legislation which will force MC citizens to scrap biology or potentially face hefty fines for harassment and discrimination.

I try to imagine being someone who describes a law against discrimination as "scrapping biology."

Read that again. Here's your choice: scrap biology or pay a big fine.

And they wonder why people are not convinced.

Oh, and they thought of another terrible thing that will happen, besides perverted men hanging around ladies rooms, if discrimination against transgender people is outlawed:
Another troubling loophole is that a female who advertises for a roommate could be charged with discrimination if she tells a male transvestite applicant, 'no thanks'.

I don't think I'll be able to sleep, knowing that this might happen. First scrapping biology, and now this.

And it seems to me they have surprisingly little to say about the lawsuit against the Board of Elections:
Attorney Jonathan Shurberg is claiming errors by the Board of Elections, and forgery, and fraud in petition collection. The laundry list of alleged wrongs is long. Anything to silence the voice of Montogmery County Citizens who signed the petition.

I kind of like the sound of that: Mont-ogmery. It sounds like a racehorse, doesn't it? TTF should name our vacation estate that: Villa Mont-ogmery. In fact, the laundry list is long. I've seen those petitions, they are a mess.

As for silencing voices, there is something here we call "the law." If you gather petition signatures you have to do it "legally." This is a lot of work, I understand, and it can be very inconvenient at times, but the citizens of the county have the "right" to see that the law is enforced appropriately.

As you know, I'm not very political at all, so I don't know how to read between the lines of this next piece of information, but it is clearly meant to be snide or sarcastic in some way, like the way they mention things that happen in Massachusetts.
Two of the plaintiffs include former Progressive Maryland president and former state delegate candidate Elbridge James and current Takoma Park mayor Bruce Williams.

Maybe Takoma Park is similar to Massachusetts, is that the deal?

Whatever, I am guessing that these names trigger some kind of salivation among the CRW in-crowd.

You get the feeling they are having a bit of a hard time with all this.
We are preparing to defend the petition signatures,and seeking legal counsel. We would appreciate your support. Funds are desperately as well needed for ads, printing materials, robo calls (which proved so successful), postage, and many, many other costs.

If you feel our cause needs to succeed, please consider a small donation of $15, $25, $50 (or whatever you feel comfortable giving). Donations are not tax deductible. Unlike Equality Maryland, we don't get foundation grants funded by billionaires.

I have something to say about that last comment. Equality Maryland is a top-notch organization, tirelessly fighting for the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. I don't know how much money they have or where it comes from, but they are just the kind of organization that deserves to be supported generously.

As for the core of nuts who make up the CRW -- formerly Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, now Citizens for a Responsible Government, the exact same people -- we know they have had the support of national rightwing groups, they are connected to Concerned Women for America, Eagle Forum, Liberty Counsel, Thomas More Legal Center, Alliance Defense Fund -- the Republican Party has even sent people to their meetings. If they aren't getting any support at this point in time, I will suggest a reason for it. No matter what they are fighting for, their presentation is so filled with lies and distortions and absurd reasoning that anybody can see what they're really up to. They are anti-gay, anti-transgender bigots, and the people of this county don't want anything to do with them. They are completely ineffective, and investing in them is a waste of money.

They do serve a function for the larger rightwing organizations, and that is that they may be able to get a larger proportion of conservatives to go out and vote. For instance, if they get this referendum on the ballot in November, everybody who hates transgender people will go out and vote, even though they know that their conservative political candidates don't have a chance of winning. So, from a political point of view, even though they'll lose this fight just like they've lost the others, at least they provide a rallying point for the rightwing extremists in our liberal county. It will never make a difference, there is simply no way Montgomery County is going to elect somebody like them for any government position, and the groups with the money know this. If the CRW doesn't have any grants or funding, it is because the national organizations understand that it would be money flushed down the toilet.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Sunday Rumination: Time Makes the World Smaller

Here it is, Sunday, it's rainy out. These are definitely "spring showers," we have been seeing daffodils and robins all week, the mild winter we had has passed. Oh, it could get cold again, but there is a feeling when the first warm days come, in March, they have a smell and a look to them and you know you can't go back, the seasons will change inevitably. Time itself is pushing us back to warmth and sunshine, and that's one force of nature you won't put a dam across or put into a container and sell to people: time. Time is bringing us spring, and then summer, you can count on it.

Here in Montgomery County we have had more of the same, people resisting time. There was a time when people could live tribally, you had your customs and we had ours, and if we met we would engage in warfare. We would judge ourselves by our standards, you would judge yourselves by yours. But time has made the world smaller. Your tribe and mine now share territory, I sit next to you on the train, we have to finish a project together at work, you play in a band I like to dance to. You have to realize that I don't judge myself by your standards, and you will refuse to adopt mine for yourself. New expanded standards exist, which we understand apply to both of us.

Now in our county there is a small band of people who still live that way, tribally. Their adaptation to the shrinking of the world is to apply their tribe's standards to everyone. To them this makes perfect sense. Where I come from, Arizona, there are two tribes, the Navajo and Apache, who live near one another and speak a similar language and who use the same word for themselves: dineh, meaning "the people." To a Navajo, Navajos are people and other tribes are something else. To an Apache, Apaches are people. That's fine when there's a mountain range between you, you can pretend that "we" are the people and everything else is other and enemy. But here in our little county we all live together and we all consider ourselves dineh. The immigrants, the gay and transgender ones, the black ones, the white ones, all consider themselves to be real, actual people, and they expect to be treated as such no matter what some other group says.

Most people in our county get that. I go into Wheaton, there's Korean Korner, the Ethiopian restaurant, the West Indian food market, the Unique Bazaar where business is conducted in Spanish, I think that's cool. Now and then there is an issue, for instance I don't understand why some people think you should just wade into traffic and cross the street in the middle of the block with your baby in your arms, but it's not that hard to understand that somebody comes from a place where you do that, I try not to run over them, though I may say something rude in the privacy of my car. Time will bring an understanding, either our driving habit will change or they will learn to go to the corner and wait for the light. I don't know which thing will happen, but I know that in a hundred years nobody will have a thought about new Americans crossing in the middle of the block in traffic.

There is a small group of people in our county who think their view of sex and gender is the correct one. They do not understand that some small number of people walk around feeling they are a different gender from what they have been told they are. Well, it's a hard thing to understand, a weird thing that doesn't fit anybody's model of how people work. Most of the time, almost all of the time, somebody who looks like a boy is a boy, somebody who looks like a girl is a girl. You treat them differently, expect different things from them, and why? Nature, nurture, snips and snails, who knows? They're just different. It's a heuristic, a cognitive shortcut that lets you deal with ninety-nine percent of people you meet, ninety-nine point nine maybe.

Point-one percent of people don't fit the expectation, though. There are children designated as boys who grow up absolutely certain they are girls, so-called girls who are really boys. How does that happen? Sometimes there's no explanation for it, sometimes there is. Science is understanding it more and more, capturing brain events on their mysterious scopes, and it's a real thing. But you don't need to see it on a scope to prove it happens. People being what they are, you talk to someone who feels that way and they are utterly convincing, year after year after year, it isn't a game, something inside of them is really the way they describe, and there is no doubt.

There is one little tribe of Montgomery County residents who refuse to accept that. Their tribal standard is that men are men and women are women, and there are ways that men and women behave, and that's that. You look down in the bathtub and there's your explanation for everything. That's fine for them, if you were born into their tribe and failed to meet their expectation, at least in this big world you could leave the tribe and find happiness somewhere else. I'm sorry for the gay children, the transgender children of that community but there is a world out there they can escape to.

The problem is that this little tribe wants to force its values on all the rest of us. Right now we have the strangest situation.

Montgomery County is a place with a lot of kinds of people. It is estimated that there are about a thousand transgender people in our county. They tend to be treated badly, it's hard for them to land a job, people say things to them, we have seen a number of murders around the country in the past few months of people who failed to meet gender expectations. It might be a little uncomfortable encountering a person who is different from what you expect, whatever, it's not that hard to treat them decently.

Anyway, the County Council recently passed a new bill that added the term "gender identity" to the existing nondiscrimination law. They voted unanimously for it, and Ike Leggett, the County Executive, signed it without hesitation. This law makes it illegal to discriminate against transgender people in hiring, providing certain services, it's just the same as the old "race, religion, country of origin" kind of law that was in place before with a term added.

This one little band of people can't accept this. Their tribe has a strong tradition of conformity, it is more important to meet the group standard than to express your true self. And somebody who claims their subjective experience is different from the sex everyone observes is failing to conform in a big way. It is the worst offense, rejecting the group norm, and this little band of people cannot allow it to happen. Men must be men, women must be women, with all that implies. They cannot accept that our county lets transgender people have the same respect other people get.

But they have a problem. They are a small little tribe in a big county. Everybody else is okay with it, people may be confused or uncomfortable when they encounter a person who deviates from their expectations, but it's like walking in Wheaton and everybody is speaking Spanish and the smoke is wafting over the neighborhood from the pollo place -- it doesn't matter if you speak Spanish, it's all right, there are just different people here. Most of us accept that people are different, and we're fine with it, in fact it's one of the reasons we like living here.

This little band of people is having some trouble keeping transgender people "in their place." Oh, it's easy to ridicule them, jokes are easy, but this thing had gone too far, an actual law was passed and it was possible that one of them would be forced to treat a transgender person as a real person, maybe even hire one someday if they were qualified for a job. But to change a law you have to get the public to vote against it, and there's no way the fair people of Montgomery County are going to vote to re-legalize discrimination against transgender people. For one thing, it's just not an issue, there are so few of them that it doesn't really inconvenience anybody. For another thing, most of us here understand that there is a problem, and that there are people who need a little legal protection, because they encounter situations that the rest of us don't have to think about.

To get this law overturned they had to make up a story. The story had to be simple, it had to be vivid, it had to be something that everybody would feel the same way about. When I first heard their story, I laughed, like, nobody will buy that, but as we have seen in the Bush years, if you repeat a lie often enough it becomes the equivalent of truth. Here's their story: the new law will allow men into the ladies room.

As far as I can tell, there are several variants of this story. One variant is that straight voyeurs will be able to go into the ladies room and claim to be "a woman on the inside," and they can leer at innocent women and nobody can stop them. Another variant is that male exhibitionists will be able to go into ladies rooms and expose themselves, claiming to be "a woman on the inside" and nobody can stop them. The usual telling is that pedophiles and/or predators will be able to go into ladies rooms, but it is not clear what they will do there, I think voyeurism and exhibitionism are the main activities, maybe they mean they will molest people, but still, all three of those things -- voyeurism, exhibitionism, molestation -- are against the law, whether you are "a woman on the inside" or not.

If you engage these people in a discussion you find out that the real case they are concerned about is this: a transitioning transgender woman, that is, a person who appears to be a woman but still has male genitalia, will use a ladies locker-room, and the women there will see the person's penis. Let me ask you: have you ever heard of that happening? Do you know how few people in that state there are out there? Can you explain to me what would be so traumatic about it, if that ever did happen?

It seems to me that there is an underlying belief that men are monsters. You will notice that nobody cares if a female-to-male transgender person uses the men's room, this is all about the purity of women and children. The underlying assumption seems to be that someone who can "become" a woman physically, through hormones and surgery and a change in their self-presentation, is still a man, with all the monsterishness that implies. "He" still has plans to violate your daughter's hymen, to seduce your wife, I don't know what they imagine, but there is no room for the idea that a transgender woman is actually a woman, and if she needs to pee she will go into the ladies room whether her genitalia have been modified or not.

My life has brought many excellent adventures to me. I have done things other people don't get to do, seen things, met people, I feel blessed in a million ways. In recent years I have had the privilege of meeting some people who have changed their sex, talked with them informally, feet on the table, drinking coffee, talking about the news of the day and gossiping. I can't say there is any particular characteristic these people share, of course they are braver than you and me and have had to face challenges we can never know, but all in all they turn out to be regular people with beliefs and a sense of humor and blind spots and all that the rest of us have. It might be a little unusual to hang with them, especially given our language's tendency to assign gender to everything and everyone, but it's no different than anybody else who's a little different from you.

What I'm trying to say is that the anti-transgender band's plan only works if you never meet these people. It requires stereotyping them, making assumptions about them that you can't maintain if you deal with them face to face. They will try to demonize them, use their male name for instance. They have been calling them "she-males" to emphasize their difference from other people and associate them with some pornographic stereotype. They will say things about "real men" in contrast to the transgender ones. They will make them seem as bizarre as they can, so people will find it easy to vote to allow discrimination against them.

I just remembered something. When one of my kids was young, maybe three, we were getting in the car at the mall and midget walked by. My kid pointed and laughed like it was a joke or something. I threw him into the car and got into the back seat with him and explained that that person had feelings and a life just like the rest of us, they hadn't decided to be a midget, that's just how life happened for them. It was a serious moment between a parent and a child. There may be jokes about midgets, but a small person is just a person and they deserve the same respect we deserve, maybe a little more for playing out a harder hand than we were dealt. In the same way, a transgender person may make you do a double-take, you may be uncertain what to say or how to act, okay, you're human, but it doesn't mean there is something wrong with them, that they don't deserve to be treated with respect.

Maybe it's a bad analogy, sorry, it just came into my head. Well, WPFW seems to be featuring jazz violinists this morning more than usual, the dog wants to go for a walk, and the paper is still out there on the sidewalk. I have a paper to write, bills to pay, here it is Sunday again, with spring coming.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Voters Sue MoCo Board of Elections

Yesterday a group of registered Montgomery County voters filed a lawsuit against the county Board of Elections for certifying petitions for an anti-transgender referendum without rigorously verifying that a sufficient number of signatures were actually valid. I've sat with the people checking the petitions, going through the signatures, and I can tell you -- the Board marked a lot of signatures as "OK" (they actually write "OK" in the margin next to them) when they were clearly not okay.

From the press release:
Rockville – With the backing of Equality Maryland, a statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization based in Silver Spring, a group of registered voters in Montgomery County have filed suit against the County Board of Elections, which last week certified petitions from anti-LGBT activists seeking to overturn an anti-discrimination law passed unanimously by the County Council last year. The certification of the petitions has prevented the gender identity anti-discrimination law from going into effect pending a November 2008 general election referendum. The individuals named in the suit include transgender residents, parents, clergy, a law enforcement officer, business owners, a civil rights leader, a child advocate, the head of a women's organization, and an individual who wishes to have her name removed from the petition because it was misrepresented to her by one of its proponents.

"Our initial review of the signatures submitted to the Board of Elections clearly demonstrates that the referendum proponents violated election law in a number of ways, and the Board of Elections did not appropriately conduct the careful review that the law requires," said Silver Spring-based attorney Jonathan Shurberg, who was hired by Equality Maryland to represent the clients. "As a result, this matter will be brought before the courts in Montgomery County to ask a judge to do what has yet to be done – conduct a thorough and searching review of the petitions submitted to the Board of Elections."

The actual lawsuit that was filed is pretty interesting. I will copy and paste the complaints here for you, chopping out the legalese stuff. (The word COMAR means Maryland law.)
  • The Petition contains Petition sheets with the names of persons who did not sign the papers in their own proper persons, and such signatures are not genuine and are forgeries, in violation of the Maryland Election Code, applicable COMAR regulations, and the Montgomery County Charter.
  • The Petition contains Petition sheets with the names of persons who are not registered voters, or who are not registered voters at the addresses shown opposite their respective names ...
  • The Petition contains Petition sheets with the names of persons for whom the addresses stated are not in Montgomery County, and such persons are not registered voters in Montgomery County ...
  • The Petition contains Petition sheets with the names of persons for whom the addresses given are either missing entirely or are incomplete ...
  • The Petition contains Petition sheets with the names of persons who have signed the Petition more than one time ...
  • The Petition contains Petition sheets with the "signatures" of persons which are not signed but rather are printed, and said signatures are not genuine signatures ...
  • The Petition contains Petition sheets with signatures that consist of neither the individual’s name as it appears on the statewide registration list nor the individual’s surname of registration and at least one full given name and the initials of any other names ...
  • The Petition contains Petition sheets which bear a circulator's affidavit which is not signed by the circulator, and every signature on such sheets is invalid ...
  • The Petition contains Petition sheets bearing a circulator's affidavit on which the circulator's address is incorrect in that the purported circulator does not reside at the address indicated on the Petition sheet, and every signature on such sheets is invalid ...
  • The Petition contains Petition sheets bearing a circulator's affidavit which is not signed by the circulator in his/her own proper person, and such signatures are not genuine and are forgeries ...
  • The Petition contains Petition sheets that the purported circulator did not personally circulate and every signature on such sheets is invalid ...
  • The Petition contains Petition sheets bearing a circulator's affidavit on which the circulator's address is incomplete, and every signature on such sheets is invalid ...
  • The Petition contains numerous Petition sheets reflecting alterations indicative of fraud by the circulator such as circulator and/or signer information that appears to have been covered with “white out” ...
  • The Petition contains numerous Petition sheets on which it appears, that individuals signed Petitions not in the presence of the purported circulator as evidenced by numerous Petition sheets with only one signature with the same circulators, including but not limited to Ruth Jacobs and Theresa Rickman. Such activity demonstrates a pattern of fraud and disregard for the Maryland Election Code, applicable COMAR regulations, and the Montgomery County Charter, to such a degree that every sheet circulated by said individuals should be invalidated in order to protect the integrity of the electoral process.
  • The Petition contains numerous Petition sheets on which the circulator purported to attest to his or her own signature ...
  • The Petition contains numerous Petition sheets on which the date of the circulator affidavit is before the date of the signatures purported to be attested to ...
  • The Petition contains numerous Petition sheets on which the date of the circulator affidavit appears to have been altered, and that without such alteration, the date of the circulator affidavit would have been prior to the date of the signatures purported to be attested to, in violation of the Maryland Election Code, applicable COMAR regulations, and the Montgomery County Charter.
  • The Petition contains numerous Petition sheets on which other disqualifying errors, not specifically enumerated herein, are contained ...
  • Defendant BOARD OF ELECTIONS ignored the deficiencies in the Petition’s form and content, and the unfair, inaccurate and misleading tactics used by its proponents to obtain signatures ...
  • Although certain signatures were invalidated during its review, Defendant BOARD OF ELECTIONS either ignored or did not properly analyze the categories set forth above.

The idea then is that the Board of Elections is being sued because they didn't check the signatures well enough. All these kinds of errors got through, and so the Board ended up certifying petitions that never should have been, they announced that the Citizens for a Responsible Whatever had enough valid signatures when they probably didn't, and if it isn't challenged it will go on the ballot in November.

I was talking to somebody on the Metro yesterday who had encountered the petition people at a Giant. They asked her to sign a petition to keep men out of the ladies room. She said she guessed it was something about transgender discrimination, but there was no clue. Nobody ever said anything about discrimination or gender identity or anything. Somebody else said they were being told that the petition was to put the law to a vote "for or against," so if you were for it you should sign, too. No, the referendum is to repeal the law, it was already adopted, we didn't need the public to vote on that. The people with the petitions were mostly clueless, they just said what they'd been told to say. It is interesting that this lawsuit names the two most-central shower-nuts by name, as demonstrating "a pattern of fraud and disregard for the Maryland Election Code, applicable COMAR regulations, and the Montgomery County Charter."

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Are You On the Terrorist Watch List?

I wrote the other day about the fact that more than one American in a hundred is locked up in prison or jail. Though we talk here mainly about issues having to do with sex education and the treatment of sexual minorities, I tend to think that the locking up of millions of citizens is not an unrelated topic. There is an underlying theme of judging others, and especially judging others as morally deficient and then treating them as something less than human.

Here's another thing. The ACLU has a new report out, with an unsettling twist:
Why are there so many names on the U.S. government's terrorist list?

In September 2007, the Inspector General of the Justice Department reported that the Terrorist Screening Center (the FBI-administered organization that consolidates terrorist watch list information in the United States) had over 700,000 names in its database as of April 2007 - and that the list was growing by an average of over 20,000 records per month.

At that rate, our list will have a million names on it by July. If there were really that many terrorists running around, we'd all be dead. ACLU Watch List Counter

I figure there are about three hundred million people in this country. A million names, that's about a third of a percent. Two and a half million imprisoned, another million suspected of being terrorists -- what kind of a place is this?

It's the kind of place where people judge one another, treat one another inhumanely, demonize those who are different from themselves.

This might be the inevitable outcome of the "mixing bowl" experiment that was the United States of America in its first two hundred years of existence. Maybe people just can't tolerate differences. I remember a while back when some Muslims were mad about some Danish cartoons, and a Danish guy told a reporter he didn't care what they thought because "they aren't Danish." I've been to Denmark, there are plenty of Muslims there, but he's right, they aren't Danish. We would never say that in our country, "they aren't Americans." If they were born here, raised here, earned their citizenship, then yes they are Americans, you don't have to be descended from Vikings or something. And so we have a lot of different kinds of Americans. Maybe people just aren't made to be able to handle that.

The theme that runs through all of this is dehumanization. If you can label someone as evil you don't have to treat them as human beings, you can harden your sympathy against their suffering. And a lot of Americans find it easy to hang a label on those who are different from them, to suck the life out of them, draw them in black and white and treat them like things.
Terrorist watch lists must be tightly focused on true terrorists who pose a genuine threat. Bloated lists are bad because
  • they ensnare many innocent travelers as suspected terrorists, and
  • because they waste screeners' time and divert their energies from looking for true terrorists.

Small, focused watch lists are better for civil liberties and for security.

The uncontroversial contention that Osama Bin Laden and a handful of other known terrorists should not be allowed on an aircraft is being used to create a monster that goes far beyond what ordinary Americans think of when they think about a "terrorist watch list."

This is not just a problem of numbers. The numbers are merely a symptom. What's needed is fairness. If the government is going to rely on these kinds of lists, they need checks and balances to ensure that innocent people are protected.

These are some big numbers. There is no way the government can keep track of 700,000 people, or a million, and there's no way all those people are terrorists or are tied to terrorism or know anything about it. It's just insanity.

This article goes on to tell about a couple dozen people who can't fly in the US because they're on this stupid list. Oh, and people on the list who are actually dead, like Saddam Hussein and fourteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Equality Maryland: Petitions Certified in Error

Woops, I almost missed this one in this morning's Gazette.
Equality Maryland’s lawyers say the gay rights group will file a lawsuit against the Montgomery County Board of Elections this week, claiming the board erred in certifying 32,000 signatures from opponents of the county’s anti-discrimination law for transgendered people.

A preliminary examination of half of the signatures has turned up numerous problems in the way the group Citizens for Responsible Government collected the signatures, said Jonathan Shurberg, a Silver Spring attorney representing Equality Maryland, on Tuesday. He said he expected the lawsuit challenging the validity of the petition would be filed by Friday at the latest.

The county Board of Elections certified the signatures last week. CRG needed 25,001 valid signatures for the referendum.

The elections board followed state election law in certifying the signatures, board spokeswoman Marjorie Roher said Tuesday.

The law — which broadens the county’s existing laws to prohibit discrimination against transgendered people in housing, employment, cable television service and taxi service — was passed by the County Council in November. Board erred in certifying signatures, group says

OK, the game's on. Here's what we've got so far. The shower-nuts had to get 12,501 signatures by February 4th, so they could continue to collect signatures toward a goal of 25,000. They turned in 15,600. The Board of Elections went through and said 13,476 of those signatures were valid, meaning they had enough to allow them to collect the second half. That was about an 86 percent success rate, which is much higher than the usual petition, suggesting that perhaps they were not as thorough as they could have been. So Equality Maryland got copies of the first half of the petitions and started going through them, checking that the signatures matched the printed names, that names were actually registered voters, and signers were different from certifiers, looking at dates, and other things. If they find 976 bad signatures that were counted as valid by the Board out of the first half, that is 7 percent of the "valid" signatures, then the second half should not have been collected and the referendum is off.
Because CRG began the referendum petition, the law has been on hold, and would never take effect if voters strike down the bill in November.

‘‘We look forward to the next step, reaching out to the voters and informing them about this bill, which utterly fails to secure the safety and privacy rights of women and children,” said CRG president Ruth Jacobs in a release.

A CRG spokeswoman did not return a call for comment about the pending legal action.

Before the law was passed CRG had argued against a contentious amendment, which would have also included areas like bathrooms and locker rooms in the bill. The council removed the amendment and County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) approved the law. Still, CRG has argued that the law is too vague.

This is typical. They want something and then they whine complain when they get it.
About half of the 32,000 signatures have been reviewed so far, but there have been problems found, Shurberg claimed. He declined to say how many problems had been found, saying Equality Maryland had just received the second half of the petition signatures on Friday and had not yet had a chance to review them.

One of the questions is whether the signatures that were signed and witnessed by the same individual would be considered valid, Shurberg said. CRG had filed petition papers on its site for people to fill out and mail in.

Equality Maryland, based in Silver Spring, had received two matching grants totaling $5,000 to help pay for legal bills associated with the challenge. The group sent out e-mail messages to its members and distribution lists asking for contributions to match the grants.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

On Banning the Anonymi

You've probably read where a Kentucky legislator has proposed a state bill that would make it illegal, at least in Kentucky, to comment anonymously on the Internet. As I understand it, states can't make laws to regulate Internet activity, but besides that, it's an interesting thought, isn't it?

It is considered good practice to keep a couple of email accounts with fake names, for when you request something online and think there's a chance you'll get on somebody's list or something, or for when you just want to get some information without revealing your identity. Yahoo, Hotmail, places like that might have more email accounts than the population of the entire earth. I can think of four Gmail accounts that I have set up. I don't use them very often, but they're there if I need them.

Almost everybody uses a pseudonym when they sign up for chat rooms, instant messaging, online forums, and even blog comments. I use "JimK" on the blog, and everybody who cares to know can figure out who that is, but we have plenty of people who comment here without giving us any idea who they are.

And then there are the ones who just use the default "Anonymous" name. We have had our Anonymi almost since the day this site started. I don't know what force of nature drives this, but there is a certain kind of person -- and there have been a number of them over the years -- who come here to insult people and argue. Technically they are known as "rightwing trolls." I have only ever had to ban one person from this site, and it was somebody we called "Illiterate Anon." The other rightwing trolls serve a function for us, they say things that kind of prove why there needs to be a Sometimes people accuse us of making these characters up, they say such crazy, inflammatory, and bigoted stuff, and in fact it is most humorous when one Anon accuses us of making up another Anon. In case you're wondering, no, we don't have to make them up. They appear on their own.

Some lefties use the Anonymous login, but not very many, at least on this site. Most people use a pseudonym of some sort, but they retain it over time so that other people know who they are. It's nice when you can quote somebody's previous statement back to them, or tie their point of view together. And there is nothing as disconcerting as having some troll say, "That wasn't me, that was a different Anon who said that." You kind of don't respect them when they can't even take the extra two seconds to give themselves a name. Just as bad, when they sign with a different name all the time, a person without an identity, great.
A bill filed in the House would keep Kentuckians from posting anonymous comments to Web sites.

House Bill 775, filed Tuesday by Rep. Tim Couch, R-Hyden, would require anyone who contributes to a Web site to register a real name, address and e-mail address with that Web site. The person's full name then would be used whenever he or she posted a comment.

Web site operators who violate the disclosure law would be fined $500 for a first offense and $1,000 for each subsequent offense.

Couch readily acknowledged on Wednesday that his bill raises First Amendment issues regarding free speech, so he won't be pushing it. But he wanted to call attention to the phenomenon of unkind and often untrue comments about people being posted online by Kentuckians hiding behind the cloak of anonymity.

"Some nasty things have been said about high school kids in my district, usually by other kids," Couch said. "The adults get in on it, too." Anonymous Web postings targeted

It's true the MySpace world gets pretty nasty at times, though in general the experience seems to be positive. Now and then you hear about threats and bullying incidents, well you're talking about teenagers, they can get out of hand. Mainly it's a self-regulating system.

Years ago I commented on a conservative site, a pro-war site, using a pseudonym. Those guys would get so mad at me, they called me every name in the book, I was an incestuous child-molester for opposing the war. And they did everything they could to put the pieces together to figure out who I was. One guy finally did, but he was cool about it, he emailed me and told me but never told the others. I was actually really glad that they couldn't figure out who I was. I was expressing a point of view that a lot of people shared, but I really do think there could have been some danger to my home and my family if my identity were revealed.

You don't hear much about it, but one of the things that really makes the Internet useful is the anonymity it seems to provide -- I say "seems to" because it turns out you are rarely truly anonymous, somebody can always figure out who you are. It's funny, the Internet doesn't just give you access to information, it gives you anonymous access, you can look things up without anyone knowing. Recently Facebook committed a major faux pas when they started putting information on people's sites about their online purchases. Some people were surprised to find out what their friends were into, you might say. You order something online, you know you're just talking to a computer, your information goes into a database, an order sends a forklift into a warehouse, a box is wrapped up, nobody anywhere in the chain knows who you are or what you bought. And then Facebook goes and puts it on your web page, the exact model of vibrator you got, or your subscription to Gay Times, if there is such a thing. The privacy of online shopping is a big part of it.
"When you're anonymous, you can say anything you want to about someone, and nobody knows who you are," he said.

Couch said he, too, has been the subject of anonymous online roasting, and while he doesn't enjoy it, he doesn't think there's much the legislature can do about it.

"I think right now (online posting) is pretty much just on its own. It's a machine that's going to go its own way," Couch said. "The state can try to pass some rules, but I don't really think it would do anything."

I don't really understand why this guy files a bill he knows will never pass, doing something he knows will never happen. To me it seems he is just saying that he fundamentally doesn't understand human nature or how the Internet works. I suppose he is free to make that statement, but why?

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Listen to This

Somebody sent me a link to a YouTube video. See it HERE. I don't hear anything there that we haven't heard in our county in the past three years.

People in the Citizens for a Responsible Whatever will hear this and ask, what's the problem? That's the problem.

Sunday Morning Rambling Rumination: Receiving Some Recognition

Last night was really nice. was honored by the DC-Metro chapter of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). Christine and I and our spouses attended the annual gala and the two of us went up to receive the award. It was really fun and cool, it's a great group and the gala is an amazing occasion.

First of all, this is a unique kind of event. PFLAG is pro-family, I mean really, not like the Family Blah Blah groups, PFLAG's whole reason for existence is to help families with gay and transgender members get over the trauma and surprise of somebody coming out, and learn to love one another as they are. It's not always obvious and easy. The DC-Metro chapter is, I think, the biggest one in the country. When they get together, it is the most interesting phenomenon. Everybody's dressed up, but ... everybody is not straight, in fact, there is no expectation at all that anyone will follow any standard convention of sex and gender. Let me say first, there is no outrageousness, no pink feather boas or any of that kind of stuff, no leather jockstraps, come on, it's not that. You have plenty of sharp-looking straight people there, of course, gay couples in tuxes, lesbians in dresses or pantsuits, transwomen in their most beautiful classy dresses or other evening attire, and quite a few interesting people whose gender is not clear, and ... it ... doesn't ... matter. This is a Come As You Really Are party. You start to notice the use of gender pronouns, he and she, or when the waiter says, would you ladies like some wine? Because they might be right, they might be wrong. Nothing is taken for granted, and it is the most comfortable feeling, it's like sitting in front of a fireplace of unconditional acceptance.

I don't know how many people were at the gala, I think there were about 800 last year and this looked about like that. We went up there and they gave us a standing ovation, it was powerful and strange. I mean, normally we are treated quite well by our staff here at TTF World Headquarters, they do rise and applaud when we executives enter the building each morning, but this was especially nice. Maybe it was the tuxes. Bambi, take a memo: to all staff, tuxes from now on.

This tends to be a thankless gig. We get email, we talk to people on the phone, mainly we just move information around; we find out about something and I write a little something or we decide to do something. We have our friends, people who didn't know each other just a few years ago, and everybody has their specialty. We have people who are natural organizers and fundraisers and strategists, people with political connections and people with good new ideas, a couple of people who make great jokes, that's their specialty and their contribution, TTF is just some people. We're not very well organized, you might say, in fact I don't remember the last time we met. Actually, I do, but let's just say meetings are a formality we endure, it's not how we get things done. We are just some people who decided it was necessary to stop something ugly, we're not professional activists or anything, we just got fed up. We don't do it to win awards and there's sure no money in it, but it was really nice to go up there and see a room full of people standing up, clapping, appreciating us. Unbelievable feeling.

We channel the scuttlebutt. That's all we do.

You'd be amazed to see how the information goes around. Somebody learns something, sends it to somebody with a question, gets a kind of answer that raises another question. Somebody speculates about it, we ask somebody who'd know, they tell us something that makes us question the original fact. At every step, somebody adds an opinion or a perspective, points out an angle that the rest of us missed, and in the end it comes out on the blog or in a talk somewhere, or a phone call to an official or something. It's chaotic, it's crazy, it's fun most of the time, and in the end it works. We catch the other side in their lies, we reveal their faulty logic, we find out their motives and their connections, we drag the truth out into the sunlight.

I couldn't tell you how many people came up during the evening and thanked us for what we do. Strangers came over to talk about the blog, is that weird or what? I heard stories at the gala, people like to talk, they talked about coming out, about how they got to where they are now, and they thanked us. Oh, and we got to meet some of the people who comment here, that was great.

Speaking for myself, I never imagined I would be anything like a "gay activist." I have never had any interest in gay and transgender issues. Like a lot of people, I was halfway annoyed that they were always squawking about respect and rights and stuff. My feeling was, who cares if you're gay? Actually, that's still my feeling, and I think it's the correct feeling to have about this. I'm married, I'm not looking for somebody to go out with, if I talk to somebody why should it matter to me what kind of person they prefer to date? Why would I care if their vagina was there when they were born, or created later? Or whether they have one or not? I just can't think of any way it affects me.

I was annoyed about their struggle for respect because I happened to be a person who didn't have a problem with it. But in the last three and a half years I have learned that there are people who have a serious problem with it. There are people who simply resent them for who they are and do everything to make their lives difficult. There are people who theorize that gay people are trying to take over the world, who believe that gay and transgender people are all a bunch of predators and pedophiles who want to molest our kids. And that's where the problem is, I'm not concerned about GLBT issues, I'm concerned with anti-GLBT issues. I'm fed up with ignorant straight bigots who will say anything to insult a human being who is different from them.

I'll go a step further. I'm fine with ignorant straight bigots, as long as they keep it to themselves. I know you can go to a lot of backyard barbecues and hear stuff about the faggots and the niggers and everything else. I don't like that, in fact you probably won't find me at those particular barbecues, but I'm not on any crusade to change the way people talk among themselves. We have taken on two public issues here. One was when the ignorant straight bigots demanded that the public schools teach a lot of nonsense, when they made a big stink because the schools were going to teach about sexual orientation. That's going too far, that's beyond the barbecue, that backyard talk is something you can't do anything about but it doesn't belong in our schools. The other thing, right now, is when the ignorant straight bigots want to re-legalize discrimination against transgender people. And there, I'll tell you, I don't have an opinion about gender identity or about nondiscrimination laws, maybe it's a good idea and maybe it isn't. But the community needs to have a real discussion about it, I won't live in a place where people decide those things on the basis of chicken-little slogans about perverted men in the ladies room. We elected a County Council, they debated and studied the issue, they came up with some wording and adopted it unanimously, the County Executive signed it. That's how it works in America. The shower-nuts have the legal opportunity to call for a referendum, but the way they have done it is so underhanded that it embarrasses the whole county. We heard them out there, telling people the new law allows pedophiles and predators into the ladies room, sign here to protect our children. They can't win on the actual issues, they have to lie about it.

I was talking to somebody recently about this. They said, do you know how the law will affect the possibility of a transitioning transgender person exposing themselves in the ladies room? And I said, do you know how often that is going to happen? Do you know how many people there are in this county who have begun presenting themselves as women but have not had the surgery, and would go into a locker-room and expose their genitals? I'll answer your question: zero. That never happens, it won't happen. It is ridulous to stop everything and make everybody focus on one tiny possibility, when there are real issues every day where transgender people lose their jobs, can't get served, when they need to pee and have to go home to do it because somebody won't let them use the public restroom. And I imagine that exposing a penis in the ladies locker-room will be a violation of the indecent exposure law, no matter what the person calls themselves, this comes down to a jury and I imagine a jury would convict on that.

Think about it. As I understand them, the CRWhatever's concern is that not only will a transitioning transgender person use the ladies locker-room, but that person will also be a sexual predator or pedophile. For that reason, they want everybody in the county to vote to take back the new law that gives some rights to a vulnerable minority.

We shouldn't be on the defensive to explain whether something is possible or not, that is exactly the backwards approach to living. Imagine if somebody started saying that people with martial arts training should not be allowed on airplanes, because they could hijack it with karate-chops and stuff. Think about it, it is possible, somebody took taekwondo as a kid, they could kick open the cabin door and take over, karate-chop the pilot. This is like that, a campaign to make you prove you've never studied martial arts before you get on a plane, a campaign based on a possibility that will never happen. Transitioning transgender people aren't going to expose their genitals in a locker room, they have too much to lose, it's too big a deal to them, it hasn't happened and it won't happen. You can't make laws against every possibly unpleasant thing that could ever happen. The fact is, these people don't like the fact that gender identity was added to the nondiscrimination law, they want discrimination, and this is the only thing they could think of to get people to vote with them.

And we're against that kind of stupid thinking. America is paralyzed with fear already, it's time to lighten up and live.

It's a gorgeous morning out there, cold but sunny. Yesterday there were spectacular violent storms, and today there are branches all over my yard -- there was a trash can wedged under the axle of my car this morning. We had ice on the deck last night when we came home. I'm going to be busy for a few weeks. I agreed to write a paper for a journal and, one thing after the other, deadline shifted, they didn't find a publisher, I blew it off, but now they want a major paper by the end of the month, so I'm going to have to dig in to that. I think I will also have to give a talk at a conference this week, and I haven't even thought about it yet, something about computer security. Meanwhile, somebody just forwarded me an email about the shower-nuts' latest adventure, now they want to go through the petition signatures, too, I suppose I'll have to look into that. Time for another cup of coffee.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Anthropologists Speak Up

Box Turtle Bulletin has this one. One of the Family Blah Blah groups tried to say that there's a "clear consensus" among anthropologists that "A family is a unit that draws from the two types of humanity, male and female," suggesting that anthropologists are opposed to gay marriage. In an article titled Anthropologists Agree on Traditional Definition of Marriage, Focus on the Family's CitizenLink tried to argue that anthropologists agree that "traditional" marriage is best, and that gay people are trying to change the definition of marriage "because they say the traditional definition is irrational and bigoted."
“What does that mean down the road, if the idea that our ideas about marriage and about sexual morality generally make us the exact equivalent of bigots?” [Maggie Gallagher, co-founder and president of the National Organization for Marriage] asked.

BTB contacted a couple of anthropologists and found that not all anthropologists, you might say, agreed with the Family Blah Blah definition.

Yesterday Focus on the Family got a letter from no less than the American Anthropological Association. Here's the whole thing, this is beautiful
Dear Sir:

My name is Damon Dozier, and I am the American Anthropological Association (AAA) Director of Public Affairs. In this capacity, I am responsible for the Association’s full range of government relations, media relations, and international affairs programs. Founded in 1902, the AAA -- 11,000 members strong -- is the world’s largest organization of men and women interested in anthropology. Its purposes are to encourage research, promote the public understanding of anthropology, and foster the use of anthropological information in addressing human problems.

I write to address the gross misrepresentation of the position of the anthropological community on gay marriage in your March 3, 2008 Citizen Link press release, “Anthropologists Agree on Traditional Definition of Marriage.” In the release, Glenn Stanton, an employee of your organization who does not identify himself as an anthropologist, asserts that “a family is a unit that draws from the two types of humanity, male and female.”

In point of fact, the AAA Executive Board issued in 2004, the following statement in response to President Bush’s proposal for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage:
The results of more than a century of anthropological research on households, kinship relationships, and families, across cultures and through time, provide no support whatsoever for the view that either civilization or viable social orders depend upon marriage as an exclusively heterosexual institution. Rather, anthropological research supports the conclusion that a vast array of family types, including families built upon same-sex partnerships, can contribute to stable and humane societies.

I am alarmed and dismayed at this example of irresponsible journalism and deliberate misrepresentation of the anthropological community. In the future it is my hope that your organization will accurately and honestly convey and communicate the views and interests of the AAA, its 11,000 members, and the social science community at large.

Damon Dozier
Director of Public Affairs
American Anthropological Association
2200 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 600
Arlington, VA 22201

Petition Challenge Ongoing

From this morning's Washington Blade:
Equality Maryland continued this week its review of signatures challenging a local transgender rights law.

Dan Furmansky, the organization's executive director, said Wednesday that volunteers were "poring over the signatures" seeking to overturn the Montgomery County law and that a response to the challenge was forthcoming.

More than 32,000 such signatures were collected and submitted to county officials Feb. 19 by a group that opposes the law.

Citizens for a Responsible Government is seeking a public vote on the law that that prohibits “discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations, cable television service and taxicab service on the basis of gender identity.”

Originally believed to be due March 5, Equality Maryland’s response to the referendum petition is due Monday. But the organization was working this week with Montgomery County to obtain more time to review the signatures. Montgomery County petition challenge continues

So that sounds like good news. If this story is correct, they have a few days to go through the petitions, and they may be able to extend that.
Equality Maryland volunteers are looking for any suspicious or incorrect signatures on the petition.

“There is a process that needs to be followed and will be followed and will determine if the bill goes to referendum,” said Dana Beyer, an Equality Maryland board member who is transgender.

But Ruth Jacobs, president of Citizens for a Responsible Government, said only 25,001 of the 32,000 signatures need to be verified to force a public vote.

“The ease with which the signatures have been obtained … demonstrates how isolated the council is from its constituents,” she said.

I don't think so. They collected those signatures by telling people the law would let men into the ladies room. Most people are against that, but it's not what the bill is about. "The ease with which the signatures have been obtained" reflects the fact that you can manipulate people by lying to them.

I find it really kind of interesting that part of the shower-nuts' script is to say that the elected officials of the county are out of touch or unresponsive to the citizens. Listen, the citizens elected them, we have frequent opportunities to replace them if we don't like what they're doing. These are the people we chose. I guarantee you that if somebody in this county ran for office who reflected the Citizens for a Responsible Whatever's perspective, they wouldn't have a chance. There is always a kind of deep conspiracy theory underlying everything, nothing is ever what it appears to be. For some reason, the County Council secretly plans to open ladies' locker-rooms to pedophiles and predators, and only this particular group has figured it out.
Council members unanimously passed the law in November, which was set to into effect last month. It was suspended until signature verifications are completed and could remain on hold until a referendum is held.

We'll be watching for some news about this today. You might haver noticed Theresa Rickman's comment here yesterday, mentioning that she was going to do an interview today. Maybe there will be news, I don't know.

Well, there's a lot going on. The Board of Elections will decide whether to certify the signatures, once they've gone through them, and then Equality Maryland has a team of people going through them, too. I know they're finding errors that the election board missed. I am not listening to lawyers' conversations, but at some point this will jump to another level, when Equality Maryland challenges the board's certification of the petition signatures. It's going to be a tough battle, and it will be interesting to watch it unfold.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Gazette: CRC Finished Appealing

Marcus Moore has the story in The Gazette this morning:
After years of failed attempts to have county schools’ sex-education curriculum thrown out, a collection of religious conservative groups has given up its legal battle and will turn to state lawmakers to help tweak the lesson plans.

It is a change for the opposition groups, who had also appealed to state agencies to halt the curriculum, which includes two 45-minute lessons in eighth- and 10th-grade on sexual orientation and a video on condom usage.

In January, county Circuit Court Judge William J. Rowan III decided the lessons are legal. Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays, and Family Leader Network have argued that it is illegal to teach students that homosexuality is innate. And even after the school system overhauled the curriculum, the groups say the lesson plans still teach alternative forms of sex to students.

Previously, State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick and the state school board upheld the county school board’s decision to move forward with the sex-education curriculum. The county board approved the curriculum in June with a response teachers can use when a student asks if homosexuality is an illness. Sex-ed opponents turn to lawmakers

I'll tell you, this is a very modest curriculum, but it's a breakthrough. These are things the schools should have been teaching decades ago, and it is pitiful that one little cell of radicals could postpone the inevitable for so long.

On Monday, Michelle Turner, a CRC spokeswoman, said the three groups never received a clear definition of ‘‘erotic technique” from the state school board and want state lawmakers to set a universal definition of the term.

‘‘Right now, we are just looking for a definition that could be used statewide,” she said. ‘‘We are seeking somebody at the state level to require a definition, so if that means the state legislators make a definition, then so be it.”

The law says the schools can't teach erotic techniques. The CRC has argued that saying the words "anal sex" in a classroom amounts to "teaching erotic techniques." It's a crazy argument, but they don't have much to work with. As someone said in the comments recently, it's like arguing that saying the word "algebra" is the same as teaching algebra. So lawmakers define the term -- so what? The schools don't "teach anal sex," they tell students to use a condom if they do that. It's good medical advice. You want to know how to practice anal sex, you'll have to ask your parents.

This next thing is worrisome, and just tells us the whack-a-mole will continue:
As for homosexuality being innate, the school system has not shown any ‘‘scientific proof” of that finding, so the groups are looking at different ways to pass the information along to students, she said.

Turner declined to say which lawmakers the groups have contacted, or how they would get their information to students. Other group members did not return repeated requests for comment.

‘‘We are exploring avenues now to get that information out, specifically to the students,” she said. ‘‘We’re not exposing our hand just yet. We need to fine-tune a couple of things before we put our message out there.”

They can put flyers in the bookbags four times a year. They can put billboards up near the schools. They can walk around in front of the schoolyard with bullhorns. I don't know, I guess we'll just have to wait to see what they come up with.
Turner did not rule out future litigation against the school system to stop the lessons. ‘‘I’m not going to say there are no more legal options,” she said. ‘‘Right now, we’re looking for a more direct route, and one that is more timely. At this time, we don’t think it’s possible to get a fair ruling.”

Ah, yes, the system is unfair to them. You sort of wonder what the "more direct route" could be, but I'll be glad to take a while and wait.

There is a little history of the controversy, and then quotes from famous people.
‘‘It sounds like they’re desperate,” said James Kennedy, a panel member and president of, a parents group formed to support the county’s sex-education curriculum. ‘‘They’re out of steam now. They’ve lost all their appeals. They’ve lost everything.”

Turner disagreed. ‘‘We’re not throwing in the towel,” she said. ‘‘We still have plenty of support. We still have plenty of people who want to see this curriculum fixed.”

The school system is ready to move past the litigation, said Brian K. Edwards, Superintendent Jerry D. Weast’s chief of staff.

‘‘This is good news for our community. Now, we can focus on our primary mission — educating children — and leave the courtroom behind,” he said of the groups’ decision not to file an appeal. ‘‘It has been a long, expensive journey, but in the end, the courts upheld the rule of law and rejected the notion that a small group of opponents can decide what will or will not be taught in our classrooms.”

This week, school board member Patricia B. O’Neill (Dist. 3) of Bethesda said it may be difficult for the groups to find a Montgomery lawmaker willing to take their side. She has spoken with several lawmakers who were on board with the lesson plans, O’Neill said.

‘‘I believe we are right,” she said. ‘‘I can’t imagine that they would find a Montgomery County sponsor.”

Del. Donald H. Dwyer Jr. said Wednesday that he ‘‘certainly would consider” helping the groups’ fight against the curriculum. But instead of the religious groups asking the state school board for a definition of ‘‘erotic technique,” it would be more worthwhile for a legislator to do so, he said.

‘‘I have a problem with the sex-ed curriculum, as do many parents in Montgomery County,” said Dwyer (R-Dist. 31) of Glen Burnie. ‘‘Somebody from Montgomery County ought to be fighting their cause.”

Students may opt in to take the lessons; those who don’t opt in take alternative classes. Ninety-five percent of eighth-graders participated in the lessons last October, and 97 percent of 10th-graders participated in the lessons last month, according to school system data.

I know some people who are saying this latest news spells victory for our side, but after all these years I am very reluctant to celebrate. I just know these people are going to come up with something else. In the meantime, let's take a deep breath, enjoy the peace and quiet, and brace ourselves for whatever nutty thing they come up with next.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

CRC Throwing in a Towel

I got a call yesterday. A reporter wanted my reaction to the news that the Citizens for a Responsible ... Curriculum ... were not going to appeal any more, to get the new sex-ed curriculum thrown out. They'd gone to the courts, the state school board, the state superintendent of schools, another court, and now they're going to quit, he said. He also told me that they were going to try to get the state legislature to come up with an official definition of "erotic techniques," and further, they were saying that they would get information to MCPS students debunking the innateness of sexual orientation.

Normally when a reporter tells me something like this I am careful not to scoop them on the Internet. They have to work with editors and policies, deadlines and publication dates, but I don't -- after I talk to them I can have a blog post online before I get a dial tone. I have always thought it was uncool to do that; they've got a job to do and I appreciate their hard work.

But the CRC has the news on their web site, so I guess the cat's out of the bag. They have a red box that says:
CRC Not to Appeal Judge's Ruling:

Will Seek Legislative Input on Definition of "Erotic Technique".

Students To Be Given Direct Information On MCPS' False Reason

(Innate) for Homosexuality.

As far as I can see, there isn't much explanation of any of this. But there are three pieces of news here.

1. They aren't going to appeal any more. This makes sense (which is something you don't take for granted with them). Even free legal assistance can be a waste when you just lose every time. The fact is, nobody has ruled in their favor since 2005, when a judge made a hasty decision and awarded them a temporary restraining order. So they're finally giving up: this is terrific news. Some on our side are declaring victory now, but I am hesitant to do that. I don't expect the whack-a-mole game to end this easily.

2. They are going to ask the state legislature to tell us what "erotic techniques" are. If you haven't been following -- the CRC was bent out of shape because the schools are telling students that a condom should be worn for anal sex. Since this is a major channel for the spread of sexually transmitted infection, it's good medical advice, but the CRC thought it was too much. They tell people say the schools are "teaching anal sex," as if they were telling students how to do that. They started claiming that this violated a state law against "teaching erotic techniques." It's a bizarre and ridiculous claim, but they seem to have talked themselves into it. So let them bother the legislature, whatever, the definition is going to be whatever it is in the dictionary, and they won't get anywhere here. The schools aren't teaching erotic techniques, this is just more time-wasting by these nuts.

3. They are going to somehow get "information" to students about the innateness of homosexuality. They pretend that sexual orientation is a choice, and pretend to be offended that the schools say it is innate. Sorry, everybody knows it's innate. Is sexual orientation immutable? Probably, but it's not the same thing, and the schools don't say immutable, they say innate. Again, they can make a big deal out of it, but what can you say? You hit puberty or so, and something clicks. You don't choose whether to be attracted to boys or girls, it just happens. They want scientific proof? Good luck. There is scientific consensus that sexual orientation is innate, but this is not something that gets proved, it's not a scientific hypothesis that can be tested. Nobody knows what "students to be given direct information" means, but let's just say I don't expect it to be something anybody wants to see. They're not saying, so we'll just have to wait to find out what clever thing they are dreaming up.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Shower-Nuts Admit Rio Incident Was Staged

Am I the only one who thinks there is some irony when the man from the Concerned Women for America is bad-mouthing transgender people? There is an interview on the CWA web site with Theresa Rickman of the Citizens for a Responsible Whatever, where they start out lying about what the new nondiscrimination law says, go on to say ridiculous hateful things about Dana Beyer, and end up, before the interview is over, admitting that the scene where a man in a dress went into the ladies locker-room at Rio was staged by the CRW.

First, listen to how Concerned Woman Matt Barber defines the referendum movement here -- this is what the CRW wishes our local journalists would do:
MARTHA KLEDER: Matt, what is going on in Mongtomery County?

MATT BARBER: Well, Martha, Montgomery County Maryland, the county council out there put a law in place which basically allows men in dresses or women who perceive themselves as men to use showers and public facilities, restrooms and locker-rooms of the opposite sex, so a man in a dress can walk into a women's locker, shower alongside the women, use the women's restrooms and so forth. So naturally, rightfully, a group of concerned and outraged citizens there in Montgomery County started a petition drive to get a referendum in place that would rescind this ridiculous law.

This guy is good. He tells the story exactly how they want it to be told, perfect.

In case you haven't been following, the law they are referring to prohibits discrimination in employment and other things on the basis of gender identity -- it protects transgender people, so they can expect to be hired for jobs they are qualified for, they can expect to be served in restaurants, and so on. The law doesn't say anything about what bathroom anybody uses. There has never been a law regulating bathroom use, and this law doesn't change anything. This has been the CRW's frame, to scare people into signing the petitions so they can re-legalize discrimination.

Anyone who wants to argue about whether the CRW was misrepresenting their petitions needs only to look at this explanation -- this is the same thing they told people outside groceries stores and malls.

Theresa goes on and on about the organized harassment of their petition-pushers. I'll tell you what, as far as I know there were six or seven people -- including me -- covering the entire county. Most sites never got a visit, and nobody anywhere was surrounded. One guy at Leisure World got a visit by five of us, because he appeared while we were relaxing inside a Starbuck's and we saw him on the way to our cars. Whatever, whining is a way of life for those people.

This part made me sick. If Theresa Rickman had a shred of decency, she would have hung up on this interview when they started in like this:
MARTHA KLEDER: Theresa, who is Dana Beyer? Identify that person for us.

THERESA RICKMAN: Dana Beyer works for Duchy Trachtenberg. She's a senior aide to the council member, woman, that sponsored the legislation. Duchy Trachtenberg got sixty percent of her funding for her elections campaign from out of the county. [more irrelevant stuff about Trachtenberg's donations] ... and we believe that hiring a Dana, to have Dana, a transgender, you know, in the County Council offices every day, was also a very deliberate move.

MATT BARBER: Now, Dana Beyer is a man who perceives himself as a woman, correct?

THERESA RICKMAN: I believe Dana has gone, undergone a sex change operation.

MATT BARBER: Well, he's still a man who's essentially altered his physical appearance --

MARTHA KLEDER: through plastic surgery --

MATT BARBER: Plastic surgery and considers himself a woman. Well this gentleman, I understand that he lied ...

And for the rest of the interview, these hateful people referred to Dana as "he." You know, Dana's my friend, and this is reprehensible. Even Theresa had the decency to refer to Dana as "she" and explain that she has had the surgery. To listen to this recording, to hear this guy's voice, just turns my stomach. Why did the director of the Citizens for Whatever go along with this? It's not a hard question: this is the way they feel. At the bottom of this referendum effort is a loathing of transgender people, a refusal to accept them as human beings, a need to mock them.

But here's the interesting part. A while back, a man in a dress went into a gym at Rio. He signed in, went to the ladies locker-room, and came out again. Channel Seven responded immediately with a breathless acount. We found out later that Theresa Rickman was actually in the lobby of the gym when this happened, but the Citizens for Whatever have consistently denied that the event was staged.

Until now.
MARTHA KLEDER: Well Theresa, I also heard that someone tried to test this. Was there some event where a transgender or a shemale or someone tried to use the opposite sex bathroom?

THERESA RICKMAN: Yes, at Rio Sport and Health up in Germantown. A guy dressed as a girl went into the ladies bathroom. And, ah you know, essentially what uh, that was meant to get some media attention, you know, and the guy left immediately apparently, I mean but there was, this is the Rio Sport and Health Club, you know and Sport and Health has steam rooms, and there are ladies changing in those locker rooms, people in various stages of undress [laughing] all the time, so there's lots a guy can see.

Yes, that is just what we were saying: this was meant to get some media attention. Greta Kreuz from Channel Seven sent an email saying she was "offended by suggestions that this incident was fabricated by this group and that Channel 7 got sucked into reporting it as part of an 'agenda.'" We don't know if she was fooled by it, or if she was part of the plan in the first place, but Channel Seven was the only outlet to tell their public about this "test of the new law."