Page: Faith not an excuse for anti-transgender bills

From The Houston Chronicle:

By Jonathan Page
July 27, 2017

Faith is used often as an excuse for bigotry. Religion can be wielded like a weapon, to put down the humanity of others, and to justify an agenda that coincides with one’s personal feelings on a group of people. One needs only to look at the current debate over transgender Texans’ right to use the restroom that matches their identity. Or rather, the debate over whether transgender Texans deserve to be a part of public life.

 I am a pastor of a church and the leader of an interfaith organization, and for me, my faith calls me to affirm and embrace my transgender neighbors, not single them out for discrimination, often under the guise of religion.

In my work, I have had some of my most personally and professionally fulfilling conversations with people who are vastly different than me, because they have challenged me to think about the diversity of all of our lived experiences. When I think about the shameful amounts of discrimination that face transgender Texans, it creates a powerful response from the core of my being: a response that is rooted in the fact that we are all God’s children, and that we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves. You see, my faith tells me that it is an unequivocal teaching of Jesus that we must stand with those who are marginalized. In Matthew 25, Jesus clearly says to his followers: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” This is not to say that LGBTQ people are any less than anyone, but that they are part of a marginalized community; one that we, as Christians, must care for as we care for ourselves. The model of Jesus could not be clearer: he cared most deeply for (and spent the most time with) the supposed “outcasts” of society, because he understood that it is difficult to live a life under a dark cloud of others’ judgment and scorn. Those who use Bible verses and the pulpit to preach otherwise are working to further an untruth, a fictional narrative that only serves to harm those most in need of our care and understanding.

Bills such as SB3 are un-Christian and unconscionable. This bill, introduced by state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, with the backing of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, would require discrimination against transgender people and rip away non-discrimination protections from millions of Texans. And, they’re a solution in search of a problem. Let’s be clear: There is only one possible angle for this, and that is to justify a policy that endorses hatred for trans people.

My first experience with a transgender person was in graduate school. Talking to Scott, you would have had no idea that he was trans. He was a faithful Lutheran with an insightful theological mind and a great sense of humor. He was also perfectly willing to answer any question I had about his transition and his life experience. Knowing Scott changed my perspective, and I promise you that if you take the time to get to know a transgender person and listen to their story, your perspective will be changed as well. This is personal. It involves the lives of real people – my friends.

The least you can do is to listen before you judge.

These anti-transgender bills are the lowest form of political pandering: creating an issue that doesn’t exist, scapegoating an entire population and seeking a remedy that would force transgender people out of public life. If a person can’t use the bathroom, they can’t go to work, they can’t go to school, they can’t see a movie. It’s a dark, insidious way of saying to trans people: This society is not for you. As a Texan, and as a person of faith, I reject that.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. Listening to transgender people and their allies speaking at a Senate hearing against SB3 and SB91, I heard similar refrains: the hate from society toward trans people leads to an increase in anxiety, fear, depression and suicide, simply because it is exhausting and scary to even exist while trans. Why would we pursue a law that would exacerbate this issue?

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Heather Heyer, victim of Charlottesville car attack, was civil rights activist

From The Guardian UK:

Heyer, 32, a legal assistant from Virginia, was one of 20 people struck by vehicle driven into a crowd of counter-protesters

Sunday 13 August 2017

The woman who died when a car rammed into a group of people protesting against a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville was named on Sunday as Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old legal assistant with a law firm in Virginia, who repeatedly championed civil rights issues on social media.

Heyer, whose Facebook cover photo read: “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention”, worked for the Virginia law firm Miller Law and regularly drew attention to cases of police malpractice and racism, as well as posting her support for Bernie Sanders in his presidential campaign.

A friend from childhood, Felicia Correa, who launched a crowdfunding page and said she was speaking for Heyer’s mother, who was not ready to speak in public, said: “She died doing what was right. My heart is broken, but I am forever proud of her.”

Her boss at the law firm said she had attended Saturday’s counter-demonstration to send a clear message to neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan sympathizers that people in her hometown abhor their views. She was “a very strong, very opinionated young woman” who “made known that she was all about equality”, Alfred Wilson told Reuters.

However, it was testimony to the bitterness of the local situation that among scores of tributes to Heyer’s principles and courage, several people posted comments laying equal blame on the anti-racist and civil rights groups as on the neo-Nazi and far-right groups whose planned rally they were demonstrating against.

The crowdfunding page to raise money for her family has already far exceeded its $50,000 target, with almost 3,000 people donating within 11 hours, many leaving tributes describing her as a hero. Sheryl Hodge wrote: “We are so sad and outraged. We will not let Heather go in vain.” George Christos said: “Very sad that our country continues to see this hatred and that a young life was lost as a result.”

Her friends were organising a candlelit vigil in her memory on Sunday night.

Heyer came from Greene County, one of the smallest counties in Virginia, where she graduated from William Monroe high school – motto “Every child, every chance, every day” – and kept in touch with her alumni from the class of 2003. The school was originally founded from money left by William Monroe, an 18th-century immigrant from England, to provide free education for white children, but it now posts a firm commitment on its website against discrimination “on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or age in its programs and activities”.

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Transgender Military Ban: The Rise of Anti-LGBT Hate Groups in Trump’s White House

From Newsweek:


In June, a legislative landmark in the struggle for LGBT equality in America stalled, just hours before it was due to be implemented, when Defense Secretary James Mattis halted an Obama-era bill allowing transgender people to serve in the military.

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump tweeted that not only would transgender people be barred from enlisting, but they would be barred from serving “in any capacity.”

Trump cited the “tremendous medical costs and disruption” he claimed transgender service personnel would entail as grounds for the move.

But civil rights campaigners argue the move shows the growing influence in Trump’s America of organizations that have been labeled anti-LGBT hate groups, and which fiercely lobbied against the transgender bill.

America’s anti-LGBT hate groups

With their roots in the Christian right and contacts deep inside Trump’s White House, myriad groups claiming to stand for American family values have for decades fought to roll back LGBT rights in America.

“These are all having a pretty successful run right now with the Trump administration,” Heidi Beirich, a researcher at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) told Newsweek. “I think the military suspending transgender [people] from the military shows the influence of the religious right.”

Even before the transgender ban, moves by the Trump administration sparked concern among civil rights campaigners.

Earlier in July, Attorney General Jeff Sessions held a meeting behind closed doors with the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which has characterized homosexuality as a “degradation of our human dignity” and falsely linked it to pedophilia. Sessions has refused to discuss the content of the talks.

“ADF is the most extreme anti-gay legal organization—so extreme that it does not concede even that gay or transgender people should be permitted to exist as such,” Shannon Minter of the National Center for Lesbian Rights told CNN.

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Yad Vashem warns of Nazi ideology on display in Virginia

From The Times of Israel

The anti-Jewish ideology of the Nazis was a precursor to the eventual murderous policy and extermination of six million Jews’

Natan Sharansky also slams Charlottesville neo-Nazi rally, says ‘there is no place for hate speech or violence in any democratic society’

By Times of Israel staff
August 14, 2017

The Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum on Monday condemned this weekend’s neo-Nazi rally in Virginia, saying that the ideology on display there was identical to that which led to the murder of six million Jews.

In a statement, the remembrance center said that it “is very concerned by the images, hateful rhetoric, and subsequent violence emanating from the rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.”

“In our post-Holocaust global society, there is no room for racism or antisemitism,” the organization said. “The anti-Jewish ideology of the Nazis was a precursor to the eventual murderous policy and extermination of six million Jews. These images are yet another reminder that we must remain vigilant about educating the public regarding hatred and xenophobia.”

Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky also slammed the hatred expressed by neo-Nazi participants in the march.

In a statement Sharansky said he was horrified at the racism and hatred demonstrated at the weekend rally by Ku Klux Klan members and other white nationalists in Charlottesville,

“I am deeply concerned by the expressions of antisemitism and other forms of racism and hatred exhibited at the neo-Nazi rally this past weekend in Charlottesville,” he said, “and I am horrified by the death of a protester at the hands of one of the marchers. There is no place for such hate speech or violence in any democratic society, and I am confident that American authorities will do everything in their power to bring the perpetrators to justice.”

Sharansky also spoke more generally about threats against Jewish students on campus, and offered specific help to local students.

“No student, Jewish or otherwise, should feel threatened at his or her university,” he said, “and Jewish students at the University of Virginia should know that the local Hillel staff is available to them at all times, as is the Jewish Agency Israel Fellow at UVA.”

White nationalists assembled in Charlottesville on Friday to vent their frustration against the city’s plans to take down a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.

Counter-protesters massed in opposition the next day. A few hours after violent encounters between the two groups, a car was driven into a crowd of people protesting the racist rally, killing a 32-year-old woman and injuring 26 others. The driver was later taken into custody.

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Trump And Charlottesville: Too Little, Too Late | The Resistance with Keith Olbermann

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Silicon Valley’s push for universal basic income is — surprise! — totally self-serving

From The Los Angeles Times:

Douglas Rushkoff
July 21, 2017

Just a year ago, proposing a concept like universal basic income could practically get me laughed off the stage at a tech industry conference. The idea that everyone should be guaranteed a minimum subsidy from the government seemed to go against every fundamental tenet of creative destruction: Don’t reward the obsolete! Force people to evolve! If workers lose their jobs to automation, retrain them for new ones!

From the perspective of Silicon Valley’s executives, only a hippie or communist would suggest that people be given a livable wage simply for being alive. But to me, having just published a book about the lopsided returns of the digital economy, universal basic income seemed an obvious solution to a problem first posed in the 1950s by the inventor of cybernetics, Norbert Wiener: What would happen when robots could till the fields, rendering human labor obsolete? Would humans seize the opportunity to lie down in beach chairs and sip lemonade? Or would our economy be thrown into chaos, with humans perpetually competing for work against their tireless mechanical peers?

In a highly automated environment, a guaranteed minimum income for basics like food, housing and healthcare would provide for those incapable of finding jobs. What’s more, study after study has shown that a universal basic income doesn’t lead to laziness. Rather, the financial safety it affords leads people to take greater creative and entrepreneurial risks.

Where is UBI supposed to come from, after all, if not the profits that Silicon Valley companies have made by cutting out human labor in the first place?

So I should have been glad last spring when the developers at Uber began to ask me about universal basic income, or UBI. I had just delivered a talk in which I blamed the company for extracting all the value out of the taxicab market, and without any real intent of making it sustainable. In my view, they are using the cab market as a beachhead in a much larger bid to monopolize the transportation industry, just as Amazon used books as a foothold into retail with little regard to the effect on authors and publishers. To my surprise, these developers acknowledged the deleterious effects of their company — then raised UBI as a possible solution. “Wouldn’t that let us keep going?” one employee asked.

I’ve since learned from similar audiences at Facebook and Google that many of the workers and leaders at Silicon Valley’s biggest firms have jumped aboard the UBI bandwagon, and with equally self-serving ambitions. By which I mean, they understand the basic math undermining their long-term business plans: If they automate all the jobs, who will be left to buy their services? Even the data that companies such as Google mine from our otherwise free online activities would be worthless if we had no money to spend. The penniless have no consumer behavior to exploit.

While it’s gratifying to hear a multi-billionaire like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg echo the words in my books as he calls on Harvard’s graduating class to explore UBI strategies, in light of the rest of Facebook’s priorities and behavior, his request comes off as utterly clueless, and more than a little late. Much like his vow to donate 99% of his shares to charity, Zuckerberg’s interest in UBI seems less the result of a comprehensive economic vision than a guilt-inspired effort to compensate for the social impact of his business. (If you have to donate 99% of your winnings, perhaps you took too much to begin with?)

I’d have an easier time accepting Zuckerberg’s proposal at face value if his company weren’t trying so hard to avoid paying taxes on its massive profits. Where is UBI supposed to come from, after all, if not the profits that Silicon Valley companies have made by cutting out human labor in the first place?

Likewise, the Uber employees I recently spoke with sounded concerned about the many drivers they hoped to replace with robots. They were aware of the irony of Uber drivers being used to train the algorithms that would soon drive cars without human participation, at least, and hoped that UBI could somehow solve the joblessness problem they were creating.

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The Bloody Work of “Naturopathic Doctors” with Britt Hermes

From The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry:

Susan Gerbic
July 25, 2017

Britt Marie Hermes is a writer, scientist, and former naturopathic doctor who will be speaking at CSICon on Friday, October 27 at 11:30 a.m. Her lecture is titled “The Bloody Work of ‘Naturopathic Doctors.’”

Susan Gerbic: Hello Britt Marie. You seem to be everywhere these days, at least all the podcasts I listen to. I’ve heard your story several times and am looking forward to meeting you in person in Las Vegas at CSICon. Your story is so compelling; there is something about someone so involved in pseudoscience and then educating themselves out of that belief, and in your case becoming so outspoken about your past life. Can you please tell everyone your story?

Britt Marie Hermes: That form of pseudoscience was “naturopathic medicine.” Some people may not have heard of it because it’s been relatively obscure until the last decade or so. Now naturopaths are all over the place with detoxes, homeopathy, and a whole suite of “treatments” ranging from herbal enemas to intravenous injections of herbs and vitamins. They are also claiming that they are “medically trained.”

So, I was one of these “naturopathic doctors.” I went to a school near Seattle named Bastyr University, which told prospective students that its curriculum was “just like” medical school. It was a lot of work at times, but we spent it learning pseudoscience and magical theories that was mixed with just enough real medicine to make it believable. When I graduated in 2007, I fully believed I was a doctor. In Washington state, where I was first licensed, I was even legally allowed to call myself a physician.

In Arizona, where I practiced until 2014, I used the title “naturopathic medical doctor.” I had a Federal DEA number that allowed me to prescribe some controlled substances. In my practice, I commonly prescribed drugs and ordered tests like X-rays, MRIs, and blood work. These signifiers of medical legitimacy reinforced the fantasy that I was a doctor, but none of us have the right training to have any medical responsibility. There is also a political aspect. Naturopaths lobby state and federal lawmakers to have this medical responsibility and to self-regulate, which means self-protection to allow the quackery to go on.

Gerbic: I believe you were beginning to have doubts about your profession as a naturopath, but it was an unethical and, possibly, illegal incident that finally pushed you to leave. Is that correct?

Hermes: It was easy for me to brush off doubts while I was in practice. I had been doing it since my time at Bastyr. I remember finding critical information about naturopathy on websites such as Quackwatch or Science-Based Medicine. My response was to think those critics just didn’t understand. They didn’t know me or my philosophy.

I believed naturopathic therapies were inherently safe since they were “natural.” I thought that all alternative therapies, such as herbs, homeopathic substances, ozone gas, water, and other bizarre treatments you may cringe at, were effective because we were taught them in school. Why would the schools teach us treatments that didn’t work or that were dangerous? I was incredibly naive and, obviously, not a good critical thinker. I suffered from an appeal to nature, confirmation bias, and Texas sharpshooting.

My perspective abruptly changed after I discovered my former boss was importing and administering a non-FDA approved drug to cancer patients. This is a federal crime. Under my boss’s orders, I administered this drug to patients, and I still feel sick about it. I immediately confronted my boss and resigned. I reported my boss to the naturopathic regulatory board in Arizona. Then, I spoke with an investigator at the Attorney General. Afterward, I spoke with a naturopath and mentor who encouraged me to keep working with my former boss. He said this incident wasn’t a big deal; I was a naturo-path after all.

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Reading the Far Right: Applauding the Trans Ban and Misusing History

From The Advocate:

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On the Brink of a Constitutional Crisis, the Nation Goes Numb

From The American Prospect:

There is a psychopath in the White House and his administration is being assessed through the norms of political coverage.

Adele M. Stan
July 26, 2017

In Washington these days, a simple question once regarded as a mere pleasantry has become quite loaded: “How are you?”

“Well, you know …” comes the answer, and it falls off right there, sometimes with a weary roll of the eyes or a downward glance.

Yeah, I know. I know how it is to want to scream or cry as the republic slips away and you’re still trying to do your work, trying to stop some small part of it from happening while the nation seems oblivious to the consequences. I know.

We have sunk so low that we must defend a racist, sexist, homophobic, lock-’em-up-and-throw-away-the-key attorney general from the president’s attempt to push him from power—apparently so that the president may find a new attorney general better situated to shut down an investigation by a special counsel into whether he colluded with a foreign adversary to rig the last presidential election.

Because if that were to happen—if that special counsel investigation should be shut down—the rule of law itself unravels.

I know.

At the same time, Republican leaders on Capitol Hill are trying frantically to deliver a legislative victory to the president—one that, by the accounting of the Congressional Budget Office, would increase by 32 million the number of the nation’s people without health insurance of any kind. That’s in addition to the 27 million who currently go without coverage. That’s right: a total of 59 million. All without any input from the opposition party, which has been blocked from participating in the bill-writing process.

I know.

Then there’s the increasing distemper of the president himself, revving up his base with attacks on the veracity of the media, as well as on the integrity of immigrants, the value of cooperating with other nations, and decency itself.

On Tuesday evening, at a campaign-style rally in Youngstown, Ohio, President Donald Trump treated his audience to a bit of snuff porn involving high-school age girls and some bad hombres.

After painting all the people currently under deportation orders as drug-importing gang members, the president described their purported crimes. “So they’ll take a young, beautiful girl, 16, 15—and others—and they slice them and dice them with a knife because they want them to go through excruciating pain before any die,” Trump said. “And these are the animals that we’ve been protecting for so long.”

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In One Day, Trump Administration Lands 3 Punches Against Gay Rights

From The New York Times:

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration abruptly waded into the culture wars over gay rights this week, signaling in three separate actions that it will use the powers of the federal government to roll back civil rights for gay and transgender people.

Without being asked, the Justice Department intervened in a private employment lawsuit on Wednesday, arguing that the ban on sex discrimination in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect workers on the basis of their sexual orientation. The friend-of-the-court brief, filed at the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York, was a striking shift in tone from the Obama administration, which had shied away from that question.

The move ended a day that began with a tweet from President Trump announcing a ban on transgender people serving in the military, surprising Pentagon leaders and reversing a year-old Obama administration policy.

Also on Wednesday, Mr. Trump announced that he would nominate Sam Brownback, the governor of Kansas and a vocal opponent of gay rights, to be the nation’s ambassador at large for international religious freedom.

The constellation of events raised alarm among gay rights advocacy groups, which portrayed the moves as a concerted effort to limit advancements in gay rights.

“Yesterday was this administration’s anti-L.G.B.T. day,” James D. Esseks, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & HIV Project, said on Thursday. “Whether coordinated or not, to have it all happen on the same day certainly brings into focus the profoundly anti-L.G.B.T. agenda of this administration.”

Administration officials insisted that the timing of the three actions was coincidental. Wednesday just happened to be the deadline for the Justice Department to submit briefs in the employment discrimination case, they said, and Mr. Trump’s tweets about transgender troops unexpectedly skipped past lawmakers and the military brass who were considering the issue.

But whether by accident or intent, the result was a striking reversal from Mr. Trump’s predecessor, who repeatedly used administrative actions and legal arguments to press for protections for gays and lesbians.

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‘I will not break faith’: Coast Guard admiral defies Trump order to ban transgender service members

From Raw Story:

01 Aug 2017

The Coast Guard has decided that it will not honor President Donald Trump’s order to ban transgender people from serving in their ranks. The president later claimed it was too expensive to pay their medical costs. quoted Admiral Paul Zukunft, saying that his first action upon hearing Trump’s ban was to reach out to all 13 members of the Coast Guard that self-identified as transgender.

“I reached out personally to Lt. Taylor Miller, who was featured on the cover of The Washington Post last week,” Zukunft said. “If you read that story, Taylor’s family has disowned her. Her family is the United States Coast Guard. And I told Taylor, ‘I will not turn my back. We have made an investment in you, and you have made an investment in the Coast Guard, and I will not break faith.’”

The Coast Guard is the only branch of the military that falls under the Department of Homeland Security, as it primarily focuses on work in the United States. The other branches of the military work internationally, and thus fall under the Department of Defense.

Thus far, no guidance has been provided by the White House over implementation of Trump’s ban. However, the Joints Chiefs of Staff have said that there will not be any change in their policy until things are worked out.

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Upset About Charlottesville? Stop Demonizing Zionists.

From The Forward:

Chloé Simone Valdary
August 15, 2017

The process of the dehumanization of Zionists — which in this context (and most contexts) is interchangeable with Jew — has been a long one in our current culture. It has existed as an idea within the ranks of the KKK since its early days and continues today in various corners of the political spectrum. It’s what happens when both Jews and Israelis are not viewed as human beings but political abstractions whose very existence is socially unacceptable and deserving of contempt. To counter such thinking, we have to not only be vocal in counter-protests but make sure that Zionism does not become socially taboo in our political and social discourses. To allow this is to be an enabler of the vile acts we witnessed this weekend. More importantly, when we talk about Israelis — as with any human being — our conversations must capture the fullness of their humanity; and to be human is to be at times vulnerable and insecure; imperfect and yet full of aspirations, ambitions, and the idiosyncrasies that make us the impossible, interesting creatures that we all are — worthy of redemption.

The other day I was doing some close reading of Yossi Klein Halevi’s Memoirs of a Jewish Extremist. My job is to create spaces where deep Israel engagement through a greater understanding of Zionism as a philosophy can be cultivated. In my lectures, I aim for my audiences to understand Zionism within the greater context of the human condition, not just as a political movement. So I thought it’d be interesting to draw lessons from a great writer and see what he had to teach me about the human experience through the lens of his own.

Halevi’s autobiography reads like a Hollywood movie script and has insightful things to say about the effects of bigotry and trauma on a community that are often overlooked. In everyday society we understand bigotry as a force that has animated dangerous political movements throughout history and which threaten to do so again. Yet this is an academic description — not an explanation. Bigotry is what happens when one person (or people) begin to see another as inhuman.

This has been a regular theme of anti-Semitism. For example, Halevi writes about how the genocidal impulses of Nazi Germany required that the Nazis see the Jews as soulless as that would be the only justification of a genocide. “It wasn’t enough to destroy the Jews”, he writes. “First they had to be degraded, transformed into living exhibits of the absence of soul.” Halevi went further to say that Jews “were being transformed into freaks — ghettoized and demonized.”

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