Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Service Learning: Lobbying for Civil Unions

Monday I completed the first of my service hours at The Center during LGBT Lobby Day, an event sponsored primarily by One Colorado. When I signed up with The Center to attend this event, I had very different expectations of what this day was about. In my mind I was thinking I was going to listen to a few speakers discuss LGBT issues within the community. Afterwards I expected to take a tour of the capitol, watch the senate/house in action and to go home filled with information.

What Lobby Day actually is is so much better. I arrived at the Central Presbyterian Church around 8:00. I signed myself in, stuck a name tag to my shirt, and was ushered over to a pile of folders. The man on the other side of the table greeted me and asked for some of my information. He wrote a couple of things down and then handed me a folder with Representative Duran and Senator Steadman written on the cover.

"These are your politicians to lobby. I see you have the infamous Steadman."

I looked at him confused and disconcerted. I realized that I had no idea who either of these people were, I blushed. I felt ashamed for not doing my homework. I continued through the queue, grabbing a t-shirt before sitting down. I was nervous. I had not realized that "Lobby Day"might include lobbying actual representatives. In retrospect, I should have put two and two together. As I was sitting there feeling very out of place and very ignorant of exactly what was in store, I spotted the head of The Center's legal and advocacy department. I approached her and introduced myself. It felt good to speak to someone I knew. Feeling slightly more confident I returned to my chair and waited for the presentations to start.

In summary the main issues in the LGBT community at the moment are:
Civil Unions SB 172 (More on this to follow)

Protection and Civil Rights Enforcement Act SB 72
Immigration (Arizona Copycat Laws and ASSET) HB 1107, SB 54,  and SB 126
 -ASSET discusses children of parents without documentation receiving in-state tuition at colleges
Safe Schools/Anti-Bullying
 - Legislation on this issue is currently being written and will include:
  • Enumerated protected classes including race, sexual identities
  • Clear Definition of bullying vs harassment
  • How to change the culture and climate of schools to prevent bullying by providing resources to schools
The main focus of Monday's Lobby Day was on civil unions. Civil unions would provide everyone involved access to adoption rights, medical decision making, inheritance, and health insurance. The law would reinforce freedom of religion, not just for non christian citizens, but also those who wish to be unionized in a christian service as some churches already wish to do.

It is estimated that within the first few years, 3500 same sex couples and 2500 different sex couples would get a civil union in Colorado. Through sales tax and Medicaid savings, this is estimated to save Colorado $5,000,000. In a recent poll, 72% of Coloradans supported the bill.

With this information in mind, we were then told about how to talk to our elected officials to lobby this bill. The language that changes hearts and minds usually comes from a personal story. It is important to humanize an issue. Finding common ground and unifying themes can also be extremely effective. Words like fairness, commitment, responsibility, those were key words we were advised to use to get our point across. One example lobbying statement we were given was:

"Gay and lesbian couples in Colorado are doing the hard work of building strong families, but these committed couples lack the critical legal protection they need to take care of and be responsible for one another."

The communications director of One Colorado outlined a three step process for speaking with our officials.

My statement looked like this:
"As a straight ally to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans community (we were asked to not use the LGBT acronym for the sake of clarity,) I believe that civil unions are an important step in creating adequate legal protection in order for committed couples to be able to take care of and be responsible for each other. In fact, about 72% of Coloradans agree with me. therefore as your constituent, I am asking you to vote to pass the Civil Unions Bill."

After being prepared for what was to come we were asked to group us with people who had our same officials. My anxiety had dissipated and was replaced with excitement. I had considered disappearing after the info session, but I knew I needed to do this. Lobbying is important, I needed to stick it out and give it a try even though it was very much outside of my comfort zone. I stopped by the gender neutral restroom and pulled on my new t-shirt to increase my sense of solidarity. 

The words on the front read: "One Love, One Dream: Equality". 

 The men in my group were extremely encouraging. We planned our scripts together and then marched on towards the capitol building. I learned that the infamous Steadman, was one of four out LGBT officials in Colorado. My nerves were further soothed. 

While this day was hardly what I expected it to be, I am fantastically pleased to be proven wrong. I am excited about my continued service with The Center.  I entered into service with the Center expecting a fair bit of desk work, and perhaps a research element. I was thinking that maybe I would get to staff the phones or greet people as they came in. Though some of these things might be a part of my future work with The Center, I hope to see more of my expectations challenged in unexpected ways.

Links of interest:
The Center:
One Colorado:
For a review of Lobby Day:

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Thank God I'm Pretty

In an earlier post, entitled "Not Just my Mother's Feminism," I talked about women in my life who have helped define my own feminist identity. In this post I left out a crucial part of third wave feminism. As technology has progressed, activism has advanced. Being media savvy is a key element in being heard. Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and more are now part of our culture. Along with the ability to wield these powerful tools, comes and emphasis on media literacy. I doubt that me telling you that the media is filled with unrealistic ideals of beauty as well as stereotypical gender roles would shock anyone. Further, I do not think many of you would be surprised to hear that mainstream media has a heterosexual bias. However, I am saying it anyways. It is an important message. One that we cannot allow to slip from the forefront of our minds in looking at media. 

The Media teaches us that qualities in females that matter are first and foremost, attractiveness, followed by passivity. Media does not respect women for their intelligence or skills. Furthermore, the media objectifies women and sexualizes violence. A dangerous factor that has lead to an increase in domestic violence in this country. The lyrics below, paired with some images of advertisments that  illustrate the bitterness that comes from impossible standards placed on beauty and a disregard for anything but submission.

 I took all of the photos above with the exception of the last advertisement which does a particularly fantastic job of sexualizing violence and showing the power play between women and men in the media.

"Thank God I'm pretty
The occasional free drink I never asked for
The occasional admission to a seedy little bar
Invitation to a stranger's car
I'm blessed
With the ability to rend a grown man tongue-tied
Which only means that when it's dark outside
I have to run and hide can't look behind me
Thank God I'm pretty..." 

"Thank God I'm pretty
Every skill I ever have will be in question
Every ill that I must suffer merely brought on by myself
Though the cops would come for someone else
I'm blessed
I'm truly privileged to look this good without clothes on
Which only means that when I sing you're jerking off
And when I'm gone you won't remember
Thank God I'm pretty..."

How the media says women eat ice cream

How I eat ice cream
 "Thank you God
Oh, lord
Thank you God
Oh, oh and when a gaggle of faces appears around me
It's lucky I hate to be taken seriously
I think my ego would fall right through the cracks in the floor
If I couldn't count on men to slap my ass anymore
I know my destiny's such, that I'm all stocking and curl
So everybody thinks that I'm a fucking suicide girl..."

"Thank you God
For the occasional champagne I never asked for
The occasional admission to a seedy little bar
Invitation to a stranger's car
I'm blessed
With the ability to rend a grown man tongue-tied
Which only means that when it's dark outside
I have to run and hide can't look behind me
Thank God I'm pretty..."

"Thank God
Thank God
Thank you
Thank you
Thank you God!"
-Emilie Autumn, "Thank God I'm Pretty" 

The video below is a trailer for Jean Kilbourne's film on the effects of advertising on our culture. Advertising effects both men and women. For women, advertisements that promote one kind of sexuality leave women with low self-esteem, depression, and eating disorders. As women become objectified by the media they are also dehumanized. When men in our culture grow up with the dangerous message that women are objects, we see an increase in violence towards women. Domestic violence is on the rise. The majority of women murdered in this country are murdered by their male partners. Our society fosters strict gender roles that emphasize female passivity and male dominance.

As women in advertisements get smaller, men get bigger. Women are taught subconsciously that we must all but disappear in this society, whereas men are encouraged to present as strong, successful, and emotionless. These roles are unfair to all of us.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Love is a Drag: A Valentine's Day Reflection

Valentine's Day is in a lot of ways, a perfect example of gender role expectations. The media presents the holiday as a time when partners show each other their affection through material products. Radio, television, newspaper, and Internet ads tell us that now is the time for men to splurge on fancy restaurants, chocolates, flowers and diamonds. The media tries to convince us that these things will make for the perfect date. A perfect date that "She" expects.

We hear the word she thrown around a lot in advertising. We hear about what she wants and how to make her happy. She wants flowers. She wants romance. She wants a perfect Valentine's Day. Conversely, we hear about him. He wants to show her that he cares by buying her expensive things. He wants to spoil her. Some ads go as far as suggesting that "he" needs to spoil "her" tonight so that she will spoil him after with what he really wants. These not-so-subtle allusions to sex are in some advertisements the selling point.

My question is, who are these people? Who is she and he? Since when is there a universal man and woman? These questions are hardly revelations. Americans live in a binary gender culture. We recognize in the mainstream only masculine and feminine individuals. Furthermore, we place harsh restrictions on what those gender definitions are.

From an advertising perspective, women are materialistic, vain, emotional, romantic. We are expected to demand gifts from our partners as proof of their affection. Men are expected not only to provide these artifacts of love, but also to do so in order to bribe their partner to sleep with them. Men are represented as shallow, manipulative, and insincere.

I am concerned less with the celebration of Valentine's Day than with the gender stereotypes that are reinforced. I am certainly not someone who dreads the holiday, bashes it, wishes it removed from existence, allows it to affect my entire February, etc. However, I do think that the media uses Valentine's Day as a vessel for enculturing individuals with dangerous and offensive gender stereotypes.

This Valentine's Day, I celebrated in a way that would not have occurred to me a year ago. Metropolitan State University hosted a benefit drag show for the Trevor Project. I went with a classmate of mine and ran into several more there. We watched as drag queens danced, lip synced, and strutted around the room. The event was immensely entertaining. I admit that much of my enjoyment came from the idea of the contradiction of a drag show hosted on a holiday that aggressively encourages binary gender assimilation.

Apart from the wittiness of the show's hosts, the glitz of the queens, and the beat driven music, the crowd helped make the event enjoyable. I noticed an overwhelming sense of inclusiveness. Everyone was smiling and clapping. Many of the audience members were people I have met. I know that they came from  a cornucopia of backgrounds and had diverse identities. We had all come together to challenge gender stereotypes in a positive environment.

All of the tips earned by the performers, (somewhere around $300.00) are being sent to The Trevor Project. This organization works with homosexual youth and their parents. They provide resources for accurate information as well as outreach services like suicide prevention programs. Below I have added a link for additional information on The Trevor Project as well as a link to the It Gets Better Campaign started by Dan Savage. It Gets Better seeks to send homosexual youth the message that life is worth living even though circumstances are difficult. I urge you to spend some time listening to the powerful messages at this site.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Not Just My Mother's Feminism

I have heard it said that as times change, we need a new kind of feminism. These feminists did amazing things. If we look back to the Seneca Falls Convention we are reminded of the tremendous advances that feminists made in increasing women's rights in the United States. The suffrage movement was an incredible victory not to be overlooked. As time went on, we saw further victories. Not least of which center on working conditions and opportunities for women.

Our country has changed. Each generation brings new challenges. What were important social issues to women when my grandmother was my age are not necessarily relevant to me and my peers. I identify closest to liberal feminism. I believe that women and men and everyone in between and outside of those binary roles are equal. I like the inclusiveness of third wave feminism, and I appreciate its modern approaches to modern issues. At the same time, I identify strongly with many earlier feminist ideals.

When I think about my feminism, I think about women whom I have known and considered to be strong. I believe in the importance of mentoring. In my life I have known some very powerful women who have helped shape my feminist perspective. These women helped support me in times when I did not feel like I had anyone to reach out to. They also challenged me. They made me answer questions that I had never even considered. I observed each of them closely when we interacted. I picked up on their perspectives and I incorporated their deep thinking into my own opinions.

I met Mrs. Vida in Hungary. She taught English as a second language. Needless to say, I who spoke minimal Hungarian, was immediately interested in seeking her out. Mrs. Vida proved an irreplaceable confident and friend. I respect her immensely. Never before have I met someone of sharper intellect and refreshing directness. Mrs. Vida is very much a problem-solver. I spent many afternoons in her office, sipping instant coffee and conversing. She enthralled me with her knowledge of literature, art, theatre, and musicians. She never hesitated to ask for my thoughts, and she, unlike many authority figures, engaged my opinion. She treated me as an equal. In fact, I am still at odds with the idea that Mrs. Vida whom I respected so greatly for her wisdom and wit, was so willing to indulge my babbling. I appreciate her more than I can articulate.

In retrospect, I placed her in mind in a maternal role. She very much acted as host mother to me. In a lot of ways she filled my secret desire for a mother-daughter relationship that I had not truly felt I had had in a long while. More than teaching me about books and plays, she taught me a lot about womanhood. Mrs. Vida encouraged me to be assertive, honest, and intelligent. When I was going through a rough time on exchange,
Mrs. Vida demanded that I fight for what was the right thing in the situation. She would not let me back down.

I associate many of the perspectives I learned from Mrs. Vida with first wave feminism. Women during this movement sought to improve their situation through organized and diplomatic ways. The Declaration of Sentiments was a document drawn up highlighting the inequality faced and solutions to these issues. At the same time, these women were not about to back down if their work were ill received. Mrs. Vida taught me to stand by what I know is right; much like these women did at the Seneca Falls Convention.

Within the second wave movement, I relate most to Eco-Feminism and Liberal Feminism. I mention the two together because the same two women helped to teach me both. They showed me through their actions a deep respect for our planet and its creatures. I observed what to my family would have been completely alien conservation minded practices. They reused everything they could and recycled the rest. They bought very little, not ascribing to our consumer culture. What struck me most about these women is that they did not flaunt their conscientiousness, but instead subtly instructed others about conservation so that they may refashion the practices in ways that fit their lifestyle. I never found either of them to be pushy or harried. Instead they were sincere, kind, gentle, and confident.

They taught me a lot about nature and where I fit within it. I gained self-confidence from them. I became comfortable with my body and my position as woman. Where in my childhood I had distaste for femininity, they taught me that to be feminine did not mean you had to ascribe to the harsh cultural boxes our genders are placed in. These women were beautiful to me in a natural, fantastic, powerful way. Furthermore, through their love of the earth I gained my own understanding of our planet. Before I met them I thought I understood the interconnectedness of humanity and earth. I realize now that they instilled in me a passion to love the earth and to protect it.

Along with loving nature, from these two women I gained a love of diversity. It was in part due to them that I found a passion for different cultures, even within the larger American one. Their unfailing acceptance of anyone who crossed their path was so powerful that it rubbed off on me a little. I know I would not be as open to new experiences and perspectives if not for their influence.

I believe in equality for all. Despite a person’s background, they are still human. Discrimination is linked. Racism, sexism, homophobia, are all examples of intolerance towards diversity. I know that diversity is the key to solving problems just as much as it seems the ingredient to create them. Without differing perspectives a solution is hard to find. When people bring new things to the table, those ideas can be explored and expounded upon until something progressive comes of it.

I love the ideas of third feminism. Not only does its fluidity appeal to me, as well as the focus on individuality, but also third wave feminism embraces diversity. This newest wave is still in its early stages. I am excited to see what social issues it seeks to tackle. Admittedly, the scattered nature of this wave makes focus on an issue and therefore change difficult. However, as more people join the movement I feel that we will be able to discover that many of our concerns are interrelated. If we can find common ground and move forward in a more united way as was the case in previous feminist waves, amazing things could result.

As with most things in life, I identify with a balance of feminist movements. I think it is important to draw from past waves as well as our modern feminism and to apply these ideas in a cohesive movement towards equality. As I grow into my own activism, I think on the women who have inspired me. I will carry their lessons forward and add my own into the mix.