Lyons: Trans Rights Are Under Attack (Again)

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(Photo by Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images)

The Trump Administration recently released a memo detailing a proposal that would greatly limit transgender peoples’ rights, safety, and freedom of expression. A new definition of sex that does not include gender identity is up for debate. According to The New York Times, the memo from the Administration states “The sex listed on a person’s birth certificate, as originally issued, shall constitute definitive proof of a person’s sex unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.”

This redefinition is defended by the Department of Health and Human Services as an attempt to specify the definition of sex under Title IX, which prohibits gender discrimination in education programs and any other federally funded activities. The new definition impacts two policies currently under debate.

One concerns gender discrimination in colleges that receive federal financial aid, and the other involves federally funded health programs. If passed, this new regulation will affect the approximately 1.4 million transgender people in the United States, who, coincidentally, would also like to be protected from gender discrimination in educational spaces. This decision would drastically decrease the Obama-era policies that allowed for a wider and more fluid definition of gender that expanded legal protections for gender nonconforming individuals.

LGBTQ+ groups and activists took to the streets of New York on Sunday to protest this discriminatory policy. Additional demonstrations were planned for the White House on Monday. On Twitter, the hashtag #WontBeErased is trending as trans* people and allies alike assert the civil rights of transgender people. Trans twitter users are sharing pictures of themselves with this affirmation of visibility. Leaders of the Women’s March tweeted: “Trans and gender non-conforming people cannot be written, beaten, imprisoned, or shut out of existence. Protect trans rights. Protect trans lives,” while GLAAD simply but powerfully repeated “Trans people #WontBeErased.

If you want to support trans* people and fight back against discriminatory policies, here are some ideas to get you started.

To trans readers: you are valid. We will fight for you and beside you.

 (Sources from The New York Times here and hereTime, and the general Twitter.)

New U.S. Visa Policy Draws Ire from LGBTQ Groups

On October 1st, a new policy went into effect banning visas for unmarried partners of foreign diplomats and United Nations officials. This new regulation will also impact U.N. ambassadors, U.S. embassy staff, employees of international organizations working in the U.S., and foreign military members stationed in the United States. Partners under these categories will need to provide proof of marriage to enter the country. Unmarried couples have until the end of 2018 to submit proof of marriage or leave the country within 30 days.

In July, the U.S. mission informed relevant U.N. members, “Same-sex spouses of U.S. diplomats now enjoy the same rights and benefits as opposite-sex spouses,” and therefore “partners accompanying members of permanent missions or seeking to join the same must generally be married in order to be eligible.” The changes began in October, giving a three-month window for unmarried couples to act. This decision, it has been said, will further the equal treatment of same-sex and straight relationships. According to a statement on the State Department website, the new visas “are based on a same-sex marriage in the same way that we adjudicate applications for opposite gender spouses.”

Many critics, however, were quick to point out that this policy may, in fact, cause hardships for same-sex couples. Samantha Power, the former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., noted that only 12% of U.N. member states actually allow same-sex marriage— and only 26 countries worldwide. This decision reverses then-Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s 2009 policy that granted visas to partners of U.S. and foreign diplomats, on the understanding that marriage equality was still a work in progress.  Akshaya Kumar, Deputy U.N. Director at Human Rights Watch, explained that this may “[force] those living in countries without marriage equality to choose between a posting at UN headquarters or family separation.” If couples are married in the U.S., they may face discrimination in home countries where same-sex marriage is illegal.

Foreign Policy reports that “limited exceptions” will be offered to diplomats from countries where same-sex marriage is not legal but “that government would have to provide documentation proving that same-sex marriage was illegal and commit to accepting same-sex partners of U.S. diplomats.”

The new policy will affect approximately 105 families from the United States. It is unclear how many foreign couples will be affected by this change. This decision comes as a blow to the LGBTQ+ community, after the legal recognition of marriage equality in the U.S. in 2015, and advocacy groups worldwide. Many LGBTQ+ organizations and human rights groups have expressed concern that this policy will be far more discriminatory than equalizing.

Cover image from Yahoo! News.

Yes, Flint Still Exists; Yes, Their Water is Still Contaminated

As of April 24, 2018, Flint, Michigan has been three years without clean water. That’s 1,000 days without adequate water to shower, cook, or even drink.

Here’s a refresher on why:

In April of 2014, Flint officials decided to switch their water supplier in order to save money. While the new pipeline was under construction, water from the Flint River was channeled into the city.

In May, some residents noticed a strange discoloration, taste, and smell to their water.

In August, bacteria were discovered in Flint’s water. The response to this issue? A suggestion to boil the water before using it.

In October, the General Motors plant based in Flint said it would stop using the city’s water because of concern of corrosion. For cars. (Can you imagine what this does to the inside of a human?)

We enter 2015. In January, the Detroit Water and Sewage Department extended an offer to reconnect Flint to the Lake Huron water source. Flint officials declined because they were concerned about future costs.

In February 2015, the EPA tested Flint’s water and found dangerously high levels of lead. Long-term effects of lead poisoning include heart, kidney, and nerve disfunction, as well as cognitive, behavioral, and health issues in growing children. Other effects include a higher risk of cancer, birth defects, blood poisoning, miscarriages, and skin conditions.

Meanwhile, the governor, mayor, and other Flint officials continue to argue that the water is perfectly safe.

From September through October several rounds of testing proved the water was unsafe. Flint finally switched back to the Detroit water supply.

In November, residents filed a lawsuit against 14 state and city officials under the claim that they knowingly exposed citizens to toxic levels of lead.

In December, Flint declared a state of emergency.

As 2016 rolled around, then-President Obama declared a state of emergency for the city. This allowed FEMA to help supply water, filters, and other related materials. As the year continued, numerous city officials as well as the EPA and several corporations, are indicted on criminal charges for endangering lives. In April 2016, the water still tested positive for high levels of lead (this was in part because residents would have to use the water in order to flush out the contaminated water).

In February 2017, a report entitled “The Flint Water Crisis: Systematic Racism Through the Lens of Flint” was released. This document asserted that the decision to switch to an unknown water source in order to save money was at least in part due to the history of racism in the United States. Ask yourself: would this have occurred in a predominantly white community?

In March, it was announced that Michigan will pay to replace the corroded or contaminated water pipes.

In April of this year, the free bottled water program ended with the assurance that the water supply in Flint is now safe to drink.

Yet, if you ask any Flint resident, they will tell you that this issue is far from over. In addition to the effects of continued lead exposure, many residents have experienced an increase in diseases and internal bleeding. Listing the plethora of dangers Flint residents still face would take longer than this article has, so I implore you to please do your research, and if you are able, please donate here, or here, or here!

And if you can’t? Use your voice. Remind people that Flint still exists, as do so many other communities in the United States in the same situation. Water is a basic human right. There should be no “acceptable” level of lead or any other pollutant.

We joke about Polio Pit here at Saint Anselm. Imagine having to live with that—worse than that. Flint deserves our attention. Flint deserves to be heard. All marginalized and struggling communities deserve respect, and they deserve the most basic requirements of life.

Sound carries over water. We have water, so let’s make sure this message is heard loud and clear.

Photo taken from International Business Times.

Lyons: Dear LGBTQ Students

Dear LGBTQ Students,

This letter is to let you know that you have a right to be here.

I know that this campus doesn’t always feel welcoming. Sometimes our value of Benedictine hospitality doesn’t extend as far as it should. If you’re in the closet, you know that there are people who “disagree” with who you are. If you’re out, you might have faced backlash or judgment from students, professors, or organizations on campus. I know I’ve heard many hurtful things from students and faculty alike.

So, I’m here to remind you that you have a right to be here. We have a right to be here. I swear to you that there are so many people on this campus who support you wholeheartedly and will fight for you with everything they have. There are more LGBTQ students and professors than you may know.

I get how it feels to be in an environment that in many cases does not accept you. We are barred from certain positions or spaces because of who we are. That is called discrimination and it is wrong. I know some days it may feel like nothing is changing. But look at history. We still have a long way to go to overcome racism, but just in the past fifty years, we have made huge strides. It’s frustrating, it’s unjust, it’s exhausting, but I promise that we will get there. Just the fact that you’re here, whether you’re out or not, deserves major praise. (And especially to LGBTQ students of color, you’re fighting two battles at once and you often go unrecognized and uncelebrated. Please let me know if there’s anything I, and this school, can do to be a better ally).

Some days you wake up feeling completely confident (or at least pretty sure) with yourself and who you are. Other days, you wake up and find you’re under attack from people who don’t understand what it means to be LGBTQ+. It’s a pain in the ass, but we’re going to have to teach those people. And the best way to do that is by existing as yourself and being proud of your identity (it doesn’t matter if you’re out or not, you make a difference just by being at this school).

Say it with me. Right now. In your head if you want (or you can go scream this from the Alumni Quad, major props if you do):

“I have the right to be who I am without fear of discrimination. I have the right to openly, boldly show my identity without fear of judgment. I have the right to be without fear. I have the right to be.”

We are so damn valid. We are so damn awesome. We are so gonna change the world, starting with this campus.

Yours in resistance to all injustice,
Jenna Lyons