Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Imagining Equality for Women and Queers

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

I thought I could imagine equality, but not really. As an activist, I just push forward in the dark with no idea towards what. I got a glimpse Sunday when I tuned in to one of France's CNN-like channels just in time to catch a Latin American map and a voice talking about which country gave which rights to queers. Colombia's High Court had just ruled that same-sex couples had to be given the same rights as heterosexual ones in common-law relationships.

After answering a couple questions from the anchor about Argentina and Brazil, the commentator said, "But that's yesterday's news. Today, Iceland just got a lesbian prime minister. Granted, they're a small country of just 300,000 people. But still. The first openly gay head of state in the world."

I was pleasantly shocked. A whole gay segment on TV. And a gay commentator to boot smiling away as they flashed the photo of Johanna Sigurdardottir, the most popular politician in Iceland, and described how she was supposed to save the place from financial ruin. I punched my girlfriend in the arm. "They're doing a gay segment of the news. Are you listening? And the commentator's a fag."

Even after the anchor moved on to something else, I kept muttering, "A gay segment. Imagine that. A gay segment." Including background and context as naturally as they would for a report on developments in Malaysia or Taiwan. Or for that matter the auto industry.

Usually, if LGBT people make the news, it's as protestors, or victims. We're always the fringe, always the beggars on the outside looking in, no matter how "mainstream" our spokespeople look. In the U.S., especially, news producers (like organizers of inaugurations) then give air time to bigots so they can indulge in a false sense of balanced coverage and remind us just how much we're hated.

Which was why it was so particularly moving to hear the matter-of-fact description of Johanna Sigurdardottir's rise from union activist at IcelandAir to regular politics. No apologia for her queerness. No pats on the bottom for the white-haired dame.

It made me happy for a while, then depressed. God, I'm tired of homophobia. I'm tired of misogyny. I'm tired of promises of change then more of the same, even in Obama's stimulus package. When it isn't giving bankers free dough, it's all about rewards for dickholders. Even though women make up almost half of the workforce, Obama's projects primarily create jobs in extremely male fields like "green" industries, technology, construction, and mining where the few women that manage to survive have to fight for equal pay.

The programs to bring women into traditionally male jobs have had little success though their rate might improve now that it's easier for female employees to sue (thanks to Obama signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.)

Trying to justify the disparity, the January release from the Obama administration used old data indicating women suffered less from unemployment during downturns. Unfortunately, August numbers showed women hitting unemployment as often men.

In fact, the National Women's Law Center crunched the numbers and found adult women's unemployment rising almost three times as fast as men's. "While the unemployment rate for men rose from 5.3 percent to 5.6 percent between July and August (a 5.7% increase), the unemployment rate for women jumped from 4.6 percent to 5.3 percent – a 15 percent increase in one month." Subcategories of black women and women supporting families were much harder hit.

Adding insult to injury to poor women, Obama and the Democrats dumped a measure from the stimulus package that would have allowed Medicaid coverage of family planning services, which includes birth control, but also a lot of basic gynecological services, like pap smears.

A New York Times editorial reports that the measure would have provided coverage to 2.3 million women by 2014 and saved $200 million over five years. Also, "the Medicaid family planning provision would reduce the number of abortions by helping an estimated half-million women avoid unplanned pregnancy, according to a study by the Guttmacher Institute."

The editorial blamed the GOP for their obstructionist politics and lack of commitment to women's rights and health. I blame Obama and the Democrats who already signaled in the presidential campaign that women's rights were a commitment of convenience. If it is convenient, they're committed. If not, not.

For instance, when all Obama had to do was sign a paper to revoke the gag rule forbidding U.S. funding of international programs that included family planning services -- he did. But when the similar Medicaid provision in the stimulus plan required a vote, traded favors and a backbone, women's interests were summarily dumped.

I'd likewise be surprised to see even a partial repeal of DOMA before an Angeln Saddleback pig takes to the sky.

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