Being a Transgender Student in the United States: An Uneven Landscape

From RH Reality Check:

by Annamarya Scaccia
September 10, 2013

On August 12, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law the School Success and Opportunity Act (AB 1266), enshrining transgender students’ legal rights to full access of school facilities and sports programs. The first piece of legislation of its kind in the United States, AB 1266 requires California schools to allow transgender and gender non-conforming K-12 youth to use bathrooms and locker rooms and join sports teams that match their gender identity.

Just four days before, though, the University of North Carolina Board of Governors voted, without public discourse, to ban gender-neutral housing, save for married couples and siblings, on all 16 of the university system’s campuses. The ban, which happened in the face of a gender-inclusive housing policy green lit by UNC Chapel Hill, arrived on the heels of a failed bill introduced in April that would have accomplished much of the same. One of the bill‘s sponsors, Sen. David Curtis (R-Gaston), even dubbed the concept of such housing “frivolous social experiments.”

The Landscape for Transgender Students

The current educational rights landscape for transgender and gender non-conforming students is uneven. While victories are coming out of California and Colorado, where transgender 6-year-old Coy Mathis won the right to use the girls’ bathroom, other states are working to dismantle or at the very least curb lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights. From Tennessee’s botched “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which would’ve banned primary and secondary school faculty from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity/expression to the choice by Pennsylvania’s Red Lion Area School District not to read transgender student Issak Wolfe’s assumed name at graduation (not to mention listing him as a prom queen, instead of a king, candidate), transgender students are facing more roadblocks in guaranteeing equal representation and protection.

Calls received by the Transgender Law Center from transgender youth who’ve experienced discrimination and exclusion in school are often similar, Mark Daniel Snyder, communications manager for the California-based civil rights nonprofit, told RH Reality Check. Transgender and gender non-conforming students frequently report having to use a secluded or faraway bathroom, are banned from participating in school sports and extracurricular programs, or are prohibited from using other school facilities matching their gender identity.

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Trans couple make history as first to marry after both having gender reassignment surgery

Yet another FIRST that I’m fairly certain has happened before.  Indeed there was a book about one such couple back in the 1970s.

From Pink News UK:

23 September 2013

A British couple from the city of Hull have made history, becoming the first  married couple to have both transitioned, one from male to female and the other from female to male.

Helen and Felix Fenlon became Britain’s first married couple to have both gone through gender reassignment surgery, after being together for six years.

Speaking to ITV, Mr Fenlon, 46, said: “It was magical. It was everything I wanted. It far exceeded my expectations,” and Mrs Fenlon, 56, simply said: “It went fantastic. It was perfect”.

She said: “I had butterflies during the service and I thought my knees would buckle under me.”

Despite the happy ending for the married couple, they both spoke of the torment they faced whilst transitioning. Speaking of having been attacked, Mrs Fenlon said she “couldn’t go out without being verbally abused.”

“For years, that continued. In the end I just stood up to them,” she continued.

Mr Fenlon said he was “overcome”, on seeing his wife walk down the aisle, because she “looked so beautiful”.

On why the couple decided to go public, Mrs Fenlon said: “We want to show a successful outcome to other trans people, and show that there is a life beyond all of the discrimination”.

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National Organization for Marriage now goes after transgender kids

From Gay Star News:

The National Organization for Marriage has announced it willl campaign to end California’s AB 1266 law which allows transgender children to use the bathrooms and change rooms of their preferred gender and play on the sports teams of their choice

By Andrew Potts
23 September 2013

The anti-gay National Organization for Marriage (NOM) group that put same-sex marriage on the ballot in California in 2008 is now seeking to do the same to California’s AB 1266 law which allows transgender teens access to the facilities of their choice and to play on the sports teams of their choice.

NOM are hoping to gather 504,760 voter signatures against AB 1266, which would be enough to place its repeal on the November 2014 ballot, and would suspend the law until Californians can vote on it.

NOM president Brian Brown claimed the law was part of a wider conspiracy to end traditional gender roles in the United States.

‘AB1266, the co-ed bathroom law, is a horrible attempt by activists to strip society of all gender roles and uses children as a weapon in their culture war, Brown said.

‘Opening our most vulnerable areas at school including showers, bathrooms and changing rooms to members of the opposite sex is politically-correct madness that risks the privacy and security of our children and grandchildren.’

Brown claimed that allowing transgender students to use the bathrooms was damaging to children.

‘They are forcing our school children to be exposed in showers and bathrooms to members of the opposite sex who claim a gender identity with that sex,’ Brown said.

‘This new law doesn’t prevent bullying – it is bullying. It is not about protecting kids; it damages kids.’ Brown did not acknowledge any potential danger to transgender students in forcing them to change in front of opposite gendered students.

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Spilling the NSA’s Secrets: Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger on the Inside Story of Snowden Leaks

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Various items: NSA stories around the world

From The Guardian UK:

Revelations continue to produce outcomes on multiple levels in numerous countries around the world, Monday 23 September 2013

I’m still working at trying to get the next set of NSA stories published. That, combined with a rapidly approaching book deadline, will make non-NSA-article postings difficult for the next couple of weeks. Until then, here are a few items to note regarding a point I have often tried to make: namely, one of the most overlooked aspects of the NSA reporting in the US has been just how global of a story this has become:

(1) Last week it was revealed that Belgium’s largest telecom, Belgacom, was the victim of a massive hacking attack which systematically compromised its system for as long as two years. Media outlets suspected that the NSA was behind it, and the country’s Prime Minister condemned the attack as a “violation of a public company’s integrity.”

But last week, using documents obtained from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, Laura Poitras and other der Spiegel journalists reported in that paper that it was the GCHQ, Britain’s intelligence agency, that was behind the attack on its ally. According to that report, the attack was carried out by targeting individual engineers at the telecom with malware that allowed GCHQ agents to “own” their computer and thus exploit their access to the telecommunications system.

It’s worth remembering that as the US and UK run around the world protesting the hacking activities of others and warning of the dangers of cyber-attacks, that duo is one of the most aggressive and malicious, if not the most aggressive and malicious, perpetrators of those attacks of anyone on the planet. As Slate’s Ryan Gallagher put it in a typically excellent analysis of this report:

“The disclosures are yet another illustration of the extremely aggressive scope of the clandestine spy operations that have been conducted by both the United Kingdom and the United States. Infiltration of computer networks is usually more commonly associated with Russian and Chinese government hackers, but the British and Americans are at it, too, even targeting their own allies’ communications. The surveillance tactics appear to have few limits, and while government officials have played up the necessity of the spying for counter-terrorism, it is evident that the snooping is often highly political in nature.”

Nobody hacks as prolifically and aggressively as the two countries who most vocally warn of the dangers of hacking.

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Destroying the Right to Be Left Alone

From Tom Dispatch:

The NSA Isn’t the Only Government Agency Exploiting Technology to Make Privacy Obsolete

By Christopher Calabrese and Matthew Harwood
September 22, 2013

For at least the last six years, government agents have been exploiting an AT&T database filled with the records of billions of American phone calls from as far back as 1987. The rationale behind this dragnet intrusion, codenamed Hemisphere, is to find suspicious links between people with “burner” phones (prepaid mobile phones easy to buy, use, and quickly dispose of), which are popular with drug dealers. The secret information gleaned from this relationship with the telecommunications giant has been used to convict Americans of various crimes, all without the defendants or the courts having any idea how the feds stumbled upon them in the first place. The program is so secret, so powerful, and so alarming that agents “are instructed to never refer to Hemisphere in any official document,” according to a recently released government PowerPoint slide.

You’re probably assuming that we’re talking about another blanket National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance program focused on the communications of innocent Americans, as revealed by the whistleblower Edward Snowden. We could be, but we’re not. We’re talking about a program of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), a domestic law enforcement agency.

While in these last months the NSA has cast a long, dark shadow over American privacy, don’t for a second imagine that it’s the only government agency systematically and often secretly intruding on our lives. In fact, a remarkable traffic jam of local, state, and federal government authorities turn out to be exploiting technology to wriggle into the most intimate crevices of our lives, take notes, use them for their own purposes, or simply file them away for years on end.

“Technology in this world is moving faster than government or law can keep up,” the CIA’s Chief Technology Officer Gus Hunt told a tech conference in March. “It’s moving faster I would argue than you can keep up: You should be asking the question of what are your rights and who owns your data.”

Hunt’s right.  The American public and the legal system have been left in the dust when it comes to infringements and intrusions on privacy.  In one way, however, he was undoubtedly being coy.  After all, the government is an active, eager, and early adopter of intrusive technologies that make citizens’ lives transparent on demand.

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FBI calls half of populace with 9/11 doubts potential terrorists

From Digital Journal:

By Ralph Lopez
Sep 19, 2013

A Department of Justice memo instructs local police, under a program named “communities against terrorism,” to consider anyone who harbors “conspiracy theories” about 9/11 to be a potential terrorist.

The memo thus adds 9/11-official-story skeptics to a growing list of targets described by federal law enforcement to be security threats, such as those who express “libertarian philosophies,” “Second Amendment-oriented views,” interest in “self-sufficiency,” “fears of Big Brother or big government,” and “Declarations of Constitutional rights and civil liberties.”

A newly released national poll shows that 48 percent of Americans either have some doubts about the official account of 9/11, or do not believe it at all.

The FBI memo entitled “Potential Indicators of Terrorist Activities Related to Sleepers” says that people who should be ‘considered suspicious’ of possible involvement in “terrorist activity” include those who hold the “attitude” described as ” Conspiracy theories about Westerners.” The memo continues: “e.g. (sic) the CIA arranged for 9/11 to legitimize the invasion of foreign lands.”

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Path to Autocracy: Could America Become a Police State?

From Truth Out:

By L Michael Hager
Sunday, 22 September 2013

In his 1949 novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell said “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.” Farfetched? Ask a curfew-confined resident of Egypt, where democracy disappeared overnight in a sea of blood.

In an interview August 21, 2013, with the Huffington Post, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg said, “We have not only the capability of a police state, but certain beginnings of it right now.” An exaggeration? Consider the massive resources being expended on arms and “security” that would be at the disposal of a renegade general or a power-obsessed dictator.

Intrusive technologies for surveillance have allowed government agencies such as the National Security Agency (NSA) to circumvent the Fourth Amendment. Leaked documents show that the NSA has collected data on virtually all Americans.

Despite some surveillance limitations in the USA Patriot Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, those statutes give NSA almost unchecked authority to monitor the international calls and emails of American citizens. Furthermore, even the FISA court has acknowledged that it lacks the tools or capability to evaluate the government’s representations about its compliance with the law.  Our government can now, if it wishes, monitor the private records of citizens, including those involved in legitimate protests.

In the name of post-9/11 security, the Patriot and FISA acts have severely compromised the civil liberties of all Americans. Yet it’s not just a matter of individual privacy. Ellsberg observed that when people know that their every comment on phones or emails “is being recorded and can be retrieved,” they won’t feel free to speak their minds. That’s especially true when what they want to say contradicts official policy or can be seen as political protest.

In his pre-vacation news conference on August 9, 2013, President Barack Obama addressed NSA surveillance in a few sentences. He said he will work with Congress to increase the oversight of controversial programs (pledging to name a panel of outside experts to review the technologies of data collection) and to have an adversary in the court to counter government requests for surveillance. He acknowledged that the government can and must be more transparent in how it conducts surveillance.

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Global warming…Do The Math w/Bill McKibben

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Silencing Scientists

From The New York Times:

Published: September 21, 2013

Over the last few years, the government of Canada — led by Stephen Harper — has made it harder and harder for publicly financed scientists to communicate with the public and with other scientists.

It began badly enough in 2008 when scientists working for Environment Canada, the federal agency, were told to refer all queries to departmental communications officers. Now the government is doing all it can to monitor and restrict the flow of scientific information, especially concerning research into climate change, fisheries and anything to do with the Alberta tar sands — source of the diluted bitumen that would flow through the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Journalists find themselves unable to reach government scientists; the scientists themselves have organized public protests.

There was trouble of this kind here in the George W. Bush years, when scientists were asked to toe the party line on climate policy and endangered species. But nothing came close to what is being done in Canada.

Science is the gathering of hypotheses and the endless testing of them. It involves checking and double-checking, self-criticism and a willingness to overturn even fundamental assumptions if they prove to be wrong. But none of this can happen without open communication among scientists. This is more than an attack on academic freedom. It is an attempt to guarantee public ignorance.

It is also designed to make sure that nothing gets in the way of the northern resource rush — the feverish effort to mine the earth and the ocean with little regard for environmental consequences. The Harper policy seems designed to make sure that the tar sands project proceeds quietly, with no surprises, no bad news, no alarms from government scientists. To all the other kinds of pollution the tar sands will yield, we must now add another: the degradation of vital streams of research and information.

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Big business funds effort to discredit climate science, warns UN official

From The Guardian UK:

Climate change summit braced for counterblast from sceptics as report warns greenhouse gas emissions still increasing

and Graham Readfern
The Guardian, Friday 20 September 2013

Big companies are paying contrarians to undermine the work of climate scientists, according to a top UN official speaking before the release of a landmark review of climate science this weekby international researchers next Friday.

Halldór Thorgeirsson, a director who reports to the head of the UN body that governs the on-going high level international climate negotiations, said that scientists would need to be prepared for a counter-blast from sceptics.

“Vested interests are paying for the discrediting of scientists all the time. We need to be ready for that,” he said.

His outspoken views will set the tone for a fractious meeting of the world’s leading climate scientists, kicking off on Monday in Stockholm, that will set out the evidence that the world’s governments use when formulating policies to deal with global warming for decades to come. More than 800 scientists have contributed to the report, the final details of which will be hammered out in a gruelling four-day session next week.

According to a draft of the “Summary for Policy Makers” dated June , seen by the Guardian– the most important part of the document – the scientists will argue that the evidence points to 95% certainty that climate change is occurring and is caused mainly by greenhouse gases released by humans – up from 90% certainty in the previous 2007 report. The 53 page document, seen by the Guardian which includes a note saying “do not cite, quote or distribute” says that levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are now greater than at any time in the last 800,000 years, based on ice cores and other evidence, and the incidences of extreme rainfall are increasing, with rainfall likely to increase in the north but to decrease in the subtropics. The draft outlines evidence of “large-scale warming resulting primarily from anthropogenic increases in greenhouse gas concentrations”. It says that if warming is to be limited to less than 2C in future, more than half of the carbon that can be emitted to hold to that goal has already been poured into the atmosphere.

The real impact of the report – the latest since 2007 and only the fifth such assessment since 1992 – will not be felt until governments meet this year in Poland to discuss a global response to warming, aiming to forge a treaty to replace the 1997 Kyoto protocol, which was rejected by the US and which placed no obligations on big developing countries such as China, now the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases.

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Off the Rails: How a Lack of Oversight Doomed Lac-Megantic

From In These Times:

By Roger Bybee
Thursday Sep 19, 2013

When a runaway train slammed into the small Quebec town of Lac-Megantic in July, incinerating the city’s core and killing 47 people, it may have marked the end of the line for the perilous, profit-maximizing model of railroading that has enthralled corporate and government officials across North America and the globe.

The principal proponent of this laissez-faire template for railroading—raising income while minimizing maintenance costs, resisting safety regulations, and fighting unions and adequate staffing—has been, fittingly enough, none other than Edward Burkhardt, owner of the Montreal, Maine, and Atlantic (MM&A) railway whose train decimated Lac-Megantic this summer. 

Burkhardt—who also owns MM&A’s parent company, Illinois based Rail World Inc., which controls rail lines in the U.S. and Poland in addition to several hundred miles of MM&A track in Canada—was a pioneer in recognizing the profit-generating possibilities of rail deregulation made available by the Staggers Rail Act of 1980. The act permitted the formation of non-rail holding companies by rail corporations, who could then use the rationale that the rail lines had “new” owners to tear up existing union contracts. 

Burkhardt was among the first to use this loophole in the Staggers Act to try to eliminate rail unions, which also facilitated reducing track maintenance and cutting rail-crew sizes to a minimum. Burkhardt has long been pressing for one-man crews and radio-directed unmanned trains.

He began actively employing this approach in the 1980s with the Wisconsin Central Railroad, ferociously resisting unionization efforts and keeping maintenance costs at a minimum. After buying up 2,700 miles of Soo Line track, Burkhardt used the newly formed Wisconsin Central Railroad to apply his model of profit maximization: fighting unionization, slashing crew size and skimping on track maintenance. 

As doctrines of what might be branded “free-market fundamentalism” took root among corporate leaders and media elites in the English-speaking world, Burkhardt gained more opportunities for revenue even while his companies’ reputations suffered.

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Eco-Investigators Say Fracking Air Pollution is Poisoning Families in Texas

From Truth Out:

By Mike Ludwig
Monday, 23 September 2013

Cameron Cerny moved with his mother and father to Karnes County in southern Texas 10 years ago. The 15-year-old boy used to take long bike rides through the country with his mother, Myra, but they don’t take rides together much anymore. Karnes County is in the heart of the oil-rich Eagle Ford Shale formation, which has become a relatively new hotspot for intensive oil drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” Since 2010, 18 oil wells were drilled or fracked within a mile from the Cernys’ home, and a total of 37 existing wells, along with processing facilities and a wastewater injection well, operate within two miles of their home.

“[There’s] loud trucks all day, there’s smells that just smell horrible,” Cerny told environmental investigators in July. “Nose bleeds all the time because of [this] stuff, in the middle of the night.”

As oil production increased in their area, the Cernys and other residents began smelling odors described as “bad, terrible, chemical” and “rotten egg.” They soon associated health problems such as headaches, nausea, rashes, burning eyes and nosebleeds with the bad odors.

In 2012, the Cernys and other residents filed a total of 30 air quality complaints with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), but, after the agency failed to provide them with an adequate response, the Cernys reached out to the environmental advocacy group Earthworks. The group’s team of investigators, who had already investigated the health impacts of fracking in Pennsylvania, made some startling discoveries.

Officials Evacuate Fracking Facilities

Records requests filed by the investigators revealed that TCEQ field workers had visited facilities emitting pollution near the Cernys’ home in 2012 on several occasions, and twice the officials evacuated themselves due to high levels of pollution in the air, according to a report released by Earthworks.

On March 1, 2012, TCEQ officials visited the Yosko Number 1 production facility, operated by the Marathon Company about a mile from the Cerny home. The officials evacuated after detecting volatile organic compounds (VOCs), a pollutant commonly released by oil and gas operations, at dangerously high levels.

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