The news these last few weeks has been… a lot. This week’s Extra! Extra! takes a look at the devastating anti-trans legislation just passed in Arkansas, the Chauvin trial, voter suppression, the pandemic that is not yet over even if we’re all pretending it is and more.
A Devastating Week for LGBTQ+ News
Natalie: The bans on health care access — during a damn pandemic no less — are offensive and wrong and should be struck down. The American Medical Association shouldn’t just denounce the bills, they should move to revoke the credentials of any doctor who refuses to provide critical and necessary gender-affirming care for trans youth.
Himani: This is one of those times when I’m simply horrified. I honestly am at a loss for words about how to process the news out of Arkansas and the rising tide of anti-trans legislation at the state level. As countless activists and writers have said, these laws and bills will cause people to die. Quite literally. This isn’t one of those moments where I can reflect on some particular angle of what’s happening. No matter how you look at it, it’s awful.
In the last EE we included an article about proposed legislation in Georgia similar to what just passed in Arkansas, and the article was centered around the work of a doctor who provides and advocates for trans health care in the South. I’m not sure that revoking licensing for doctors is going to really help this situation. Medical professionals are already placed in an impossible position because of the terrible laws that have passed/are being considered: if they provide life-saving care they will face criminal charges. Revoking their credentials will only further drive health care providers out of the state which is going to hurt a lot of people, including trans people who will lose access to affirming and competent health care providers. And given the anti-science rapacity of Republicans, I’m not sure that the threat of losing health care providers is actually going to force their hand to change their stance on this. A lot of the places that are taking on anti-trans legislation are the same ones that already have health care shortages and have refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
There’s still time to stop some of this in other states. Chase Strangio of the ACLU put together a twitter thread of what’s coming down the line and steps that you can take (also shared by Carmen in yesterday’s AAA):
For everyone who is outraged about what happened to trans people in Arkansas, there is still time to help us stop these cruel and senseless bills elsewhere. I am going to provide an action plan below. #ProtectTransKids #LetKidsPlay
— Chase Strangio (@chasestrangio) April 7, 2021
Rachel: It’s impossible to overstate how devastating this is, and the fact that as many advocates for trans youth have pointed out, it will absolutely lead to the deaths of trans kids. I’m tempted to draw comparisons between previous eras of anti-LGBT lobbying, like the National Organization for Marriage’s run in the 2000s and anti-Prop 8 organizing; you may remember the “It’s Already Happened” ad which also weaponized “concern” for children for a far-right cause. This political and cultural moment targeting trans people is part of a longer legacy, but it’s crucial to name that this chapter of it isn’t something we can lay at the feet of solely Republicans. The current attack on trans kids owes a great deal to the TERF and transmisogynistic logic that increasingly pervades liberal circles, including cis queer women’s communities. As many have pointed out, allegedly ‘well-intentioned’ liberals ‘just asking questions’ about trans kids, like Jesse Singal’s infamous Atlantic cover story, is a huge part of how we got to this moment, and voting Republicans out of office isn’t a meaningful solution here. Trans kids need more than legislative solutions; they need cis people to work to uproot the violent transphobia in all our communities, not just the Arkansas legislature.
— Colin Campbell (@RaleighReporter) April 5, 2021
Natalie: It seemed inevitable that the anti-trans legislation that’s proliferating across the country would make its way to my home state of North Carolina. After all, the same conservative forces marshalling this effort — the Heritage Foundation, the Alliance Defending Freedom and Eagle Forum — are the same folks who were behind HB2, the so-called “bathroom bill,” in 2016. But it seems like, with each state we hear about taking up these anti-trans bills, they continue to get progressively worse: as if the Right is testing the bounds of the Courts’ tolerance for their bigotry. How much of their hatred can they write into law before the Courts step in and say, “enough!”
What’s happening in North Carolina is insidious: it goes beyond not offering healthcare to trans youth — though, clearly, it does that too because these are reprehensible human beings — Republicans have “devised a way to punish gender thoughtcrime.” If the bill becomes law, state employees would be required to report any “symptoms of gender dysphoria, gender nonconformity, or otherwise demonstrates a desire to be treated in a manner incongruent with the minor’s sex.” What’s that mean exactly? No one really knows; it’s that broad. Is a teacher responsible for reporting the tomboy in class that likes to wear baseball caps and boys shoes? Under this law, yes. Is “gender nonconformity” limited to clothing or do short haircuts or kissing other girls count?
They were coming for trans people and we should stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the trans community to battle them…and if you haven’t devoted yourself to the cause of securing trans equality, you should…because this North Carolina bill shows us, without a doubt, that they’re coming for all of us next.
Prosecuting the Murder of George Floyd
Himani: I read a fair amount of depressing news on a regular basis, and the coverage of this trial has just completely drained me. The witness testimony, the newly released footage, the shamelessness of the defense — harrowing is really the only word that comes to mind. But, I also think it’s incumbent on all of us who are not Black to engage with this, to really look at this violent, corrupt, racist system in the face. To bear witness to the injustice of this trial — with the defense relying on racist tropes and police crossing the proverbial blue line so that they can bolster the “bad apples” argument — and the many, many trials before it that haven’t even made it this far. To that end, here are two of the best articles I have read about it. I also highly recommend the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder’s daily coverage of the trial for an in-depth look at the proceedings.
Rachel: Himani is absolutely correct; harrowing is the only word that comes to mind. Everyone I know impacted by this trial locally is just exhausted and hollowed out, especially after this past year. I keep coming back to this witness’s cross-examination, both very difficult and very sustaining to hear (does not contain video or audio of Floyd’s murder). The cross-examiner’s line of questioning is so blatantly, explicitly racist, and also the witness is so clearly anticipating and aware of his limited rhetorical options for resisting it; but has to just… sit with this? His grace and determination are so admirable, and also it’s so unspeakable that he should have to call them to bear.
Meanwhile, In Canada
A Little Bit of Hope
Natalie: I know I should be focused on what a tremendous accomplishment this is for activists in New Mexico and their allies in the legislature and governor’s mansion but the response from the head of New Mexico’s state’s police chiefs association made me laugh out loud. He discounts the law entirely, claiming it “will only ‘get a few people some justice in state court.’” First, I’d point out that a few people are better than no people, but more importantly: if it’s not a big deal, why are police associations across the country fighting so hard to preserve qualified immunity? And if police associations are sincerely concerned about addressing “more pressing issues, such as police training,” why don’t they address them? And why don’t they stop condemning activists when they call for more training? Oh, that’s right, because they’re not sincere at all about stopping the epidemic of police violence against the citizenry they’re sworn to protect.
But, back to the subject at hand, this is a historic moment for New Mexico, especially since the state boasts one of the highest rates of fatal police shootings in the country. I’m hopeful that momentum — which began in Colorado — continues to build for an end to qualified immunity. This isn’t justice — and these victims and their families deserve justice — but it is accountability and that matters too.
We’re Not Even Trying to Lie Any More about “American Democracy”
Himani: Isn’t it incredible how the seasons have just barely changed and yet the state of Georgia has moved swiftly since November to enact voting restrictions that completely undermine the notion of democracy? Arizona isn’t too far behind either. As the article from Vox rightly points out, the details are hardly the point because the Republican party has been playing a very, very long game of eroding democracy to, effectively, secure a one-party rule. And, in many ways, the Republican party has already won that game given that 60% of Republicans still think the 2020 election was stolen from Trump. Sounds an awful lot like a bunch of countries abroad that we like to criticize for being democracies in name only, doesn’t it? Honestly, I don’t even know what to hope for in 2022 or 2024.
Rep. Park Cannon breaks her silence on the March 25th arrest at the Georgia State Capitol https://t.co/pzaJZfKPHm
— Representative Park Cannon (@Cannonfor58) April 2, 2021
Natalie: I wanted to highlight the effort by Park Cannon in Georgia for two reasons: first, what was done to her was egregious. For the sin of wanting to bear witness to the anti-democratic legislation being signed into law, Cannon — a duly elected lawmaker — was arrested by the Capitol Police.
But also? In a previous edition of EE, I bemoaned Kyrsten Sinema and her inaction on the filibuster …and how upsetting it is to note that the person standing between LGBT people and the Equality Act is a person from our community. While Sinema remains a disappointment, LGBT representation among our elected leaders is still vital… and there are queer women, elected to public office, who are doing incredible things for our community and beyond. Park Cannon is doing that in Georgia and we should remember and celebrate that.
News from the Court
Natalie: I don’t know how much, if anything, this group will accomplish…or if this is the kind of group that’ll recommend the kind of change that’ll make the Supreme Court into a representative body (which may be point, considering who Biden is)…but this is like a Murderers’ Row of brilliant legal minds.
Labor Rights and Discrimination
Rachel: This story may seem like kind of a nonstarter given the glut of extremely urgent stories impacting the wellbeing of multiple marginalized communities, and in some ways it might be – hopefully this story goes nowhere! But in other ways, it’s deeply troubling, and it’s a major tell about the way both the specter of sex work and policing of digital spaces are being leveraged by GOP policy right now. As backstory, laws meant to crack down on ‘trafficking’ (a legally murky concept, and a topic plagued by QAnon conspiracy theories) have either shut down most online portals for sex work or severely restricted them. Even the legal platforms like OnlyFans, which explicitly allow for legally confirmed adults to sell access to digital images or video in exchange for money, are increasingly limiting performers: any terminology that could be in any way related to offline meetups is banned or will get you kicked off the platform; many types of content or thematic representations are banned completely; performers routinely report that their earnings are frozen or withheld and have no recourse to getting them back. Even with all these restrictions, platforms like this are still weathering attacks from right-wing legislators and pundits who would like to see them shut down after an influx of workers have turned to them to stay afloat during the pandemic & recession. In this letter to the Attorney General, Rep. Gosar argues that OF violates “the Mann Act, known as the “white-slave” law, the 1910 law forbids paying to transport women over state lines for prostitution,” saying “On this site, individuals can advertise their willingness to travel across state lines for illegal or immoral activities, and the platform providing publicity for these individuals appears to subsidize and capitalize off this travel.” The implication is that OF is not just “immoral,” but a pretext for trafficking.
This is not actually a bill, and if it was, there’s no reason to assume it would pass; Gosar is, to put it lightly, a wingnut. But this attempt comes at a time when, as the Daily Beast reports, “a new panic around pornography. First, The New York Times collaborated with a homophobic church to paint all PornHub users as sex traffickers and criminals. Then Utah decided to pressure phone manufacturers to block porn on adults’ phones. After four years of insisting freedom of speech is under attack by the left during the Trump era, Republicans are back to policing Americans’ sexuality and censoring porn stars.” Furthermore, it comes at a dangerously unstable moment of QAnon preoccupation; they truly believe there are massive global trafficking rings of white children, and that even the amateur porn industry is a cover for it. Rep. Gosar has been strongly linked to the Capitol attack, organized by the same QAnon devotees; we know what they’re capable of when they’re serious about something, and now they know there are basically no consequences for them.
Sex work advocacy and organizing has been really visible and effective in recent years, with meaningful progress towards decriminalization; as we also see with advances in rights and visibility for trans people, progress is always accompanied by backlash. This is worth prioritizing not just because sex workers are people and sex work organizing is labor organizing, but because, as sex worker advocates often remind us, sex workers’ rights are canaries in the coal mine; what happens to sex workers happens to non-sex-working queer people and women soon after.
Natalie: The headline should be, “Amazon Successfully Manipulates Workers To Vote Against Their Own Interests.”
Himani: Not sure if it was manipulation so much as intimidation. Probably both, in all reality.
Himani: This was a bit of a dense read, but the main takeaway is this: “The headlines have been ‘Men Fare Worse Than Women’ [when they get COVID]. But who disappears in that picture? Black women who are dying of COVID at extremely high rates. That specific vulnerability is lost. It’s the Kimberle Crenshaw intersectionality story.” This is not a particularly unexpected finding, but I think the main point of these researchers, that the intersections are not getting analyzed, is important because again and again research tends to focus on things along one dimension only.
Reading this article against the backdrop of the anti-trans legislation that has been getting passed, I couldn’t help but focus on this statement from one of the researchers: “And what we have observed in the discourse around sex differences is a focus, a rush to biological causal variables. But our research has shown that there are extreme variations in the degree of the sex disparity similarly across states. All of this shows that biology would be a very poor candidate to explain these kinds of variations, just like we consider biology a very poor candidate to explain the extreme racial disparities that have been seen. Instead, they pattern along these well known social trajectories.”
Republicans are so focused on the “biological definition of sex,” and while I don’t know that anyone is connecting any dots between the reporting on the “sex disparity” in COVID outcomes to anti-trans policy, specifically, this article — once again — undermines the notion that biology can explain everything. This is complicated because historically, medicine has focused the bulk of its research on cis men and used that to extrapolate to the medical needs and experiences of everyone else — which is well known to cause disparities in reproductive health care and has led to limited understanding of the health of people who are not cis men. So I don’t want to completely dismiss or discredit the work that countless people have to done to move the needle away from making cis men the standard for whom the entire world and on whom our understanding of the world is defined. But certainly, as we all know, going to the other extreme of relying on “biology” to explain everything has led to a lot of other horrors ranging from eugenics to conversion therapy to the latest round of anti-trans policies.
Natalie: This week, my nephews — who have spent most days with me since last March — went back to school. It’s not the first time they’ve been in a classroom this school year but it is the first time they’ll go back without social distancing or health protocols or three week rotations. It’ll be as close as to normal school days as they’ve experienced in a year, only with masks. I’m as nervous about sending them out into the world — and having them come home — as I’ve ever been…and this reporting did not calm my anxiety, especially since the UK variant’s dominance continues to grow.
Himani: Reading this and the previous articles is literally like watching my worst nightmare regarding the pandemic slowly unfold. I feel like the world is reopening far too fast. I feel like people are moving on with their lives, but the virus hasn’t moved on from us because that’s not what viruses do. I feel like the communities that have already paid the worst price for this will do so again and again and again. I’ve grown so tired and so weary of watching the same people make reckless decisions that put all of us at risk while the rest of us continue to make our lives smaller and smaller to try to curb some of the damage. I’m losing my grasp — if I ever really had it in the first place? — on what is necessary to do in this moment to keep us all safe and what is just an extension of my personal struggles with a childhood largely defined by isolation taking over my life. Basically I’m unraveling, as so many of us are, from the weight of a year of gaslighting by political leaders across the world about the severity of the situation we are in.
Rachel: I want to echo both Himani and Natalie, and Himani’s observation that “I feel like the communities that have already paid the worst price for this will do so again and again and again.” I’m also torn and increasingly exhausted from trying to parse the multiple realities we’re all living in; I feel incredible relief at the vaccine rollout (my mother works in schools with developmentally disabled kids, a job that can’t socially distance; my brother works in retail, and they’ve both been working in person the entire pandemic) and frustration with folks who seem hellbent on stoking doubt in vaccine efficacy and suggesting that it’s unethical for vaccinated people to change their quarantine behavior at all. I also feel grief and anger at how unequal the rollout is, especially on a global scale; there are wealthy communities in the US who really can pretend covid is functionally ‘over’ even though it only slightly impacted them in the first place, and there are so many more deeply disenfranchised communities who will seemingly never get that chance even after all they’ve lost and continue to lose.
Himani: There is a long, disturbing history of abuse committed by “humanitarian workers” in developing countries. These abuses range from gross neglect to rampant sexual exploitation to corruption. The problem is so ubiquitous that conspiracy theories have taken hold around it and undermined organizations actually doing credible work. And so, once again, Oxfam is under scrutiny for literally all of the above issues. It’s just so damned shameful.