THE TOMB of NIANKHKHNUM and KHNUMHOTEP – proof that people will be people, regardless of what era they live in.
‘Dear Abby’ says she’s for gay marriage
October 9, 2007
By LISA LEFF
For years, rumblings have surfaced on the Internet, conjecture about her casual references to “sexual orientation” and “respect.” Now, Dear Abby is ready to say it flatly: She supports same-sex marriage.
“I believe if two people want to commit to each other, God bless ’em,” the syndicated advice columnist told The Associated Press. “That is the highest form of commitment, for heaven’s sake.”
What Jeanne Phillips, aka Abigail Van Buren, finds offensive and misguided are homophobic jokes, phrases like “That’s so gay,” and parents who reject or try to reform their children when they come out of the closet.
Her views are the reason she’s being honored this week by Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, a national advocacy group that provides support for gay people and their families. The original Abby, Phillips’ 89-year-old mother, Pauline, helped put PFLAG on the map in 1984 when she first referred a distraught parent to the organization.
Jeanne Phillips, who formally took over the column when her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease five years ago, has continued plugging the group, as well as its affiliate for parents with children who identify as transgender, and a suicide hot line aimed at gay teenagers.
“I’m trying to tell kids if they are gay, it’s OK to be gay. I’ve tried to tell families if they have a gay family member to accept them and love them as they always have,” she said Friday.
PFLAG director Jody Huckaby said Abby is the perfect choice for the first “Straight for Equality” award, part of the group’s new campaign to engage more heterosexuals as allies.
“She is such a mainstream voice,” Huckaby said. “If Dear Abby is talking about it, it gives other people permission to talk about it.”
Alert “Dear Abby” readers may have noticed that the youthful attitude Phillips promised to bring to the column includes a decidedly gay-friendly take on most matters.
In a March 2005 column that touched a nerve with some readers, for instance, Phillips came down unequivocally on the side of scientists who say sexual orientation is a matter of genetics, not personal choice. She advised a mother who had cautioned her 14-year-old daughter to keep her feelings for other girls secret to “come to terms with your own feelings about homosexuality.”
Last year, addressing a groom whose gay brother refused to serve as best man or even attend the wedding because he did not have the right to marry, she made it clear her sympathies lay with the boycotting brother.
“Accepting the status quo is not always the best thing to do,” she wrote. “Women were once considered chattel, and slavery was regarded as sanctioned in the Bible. However, western society grew to recognize that neither was just. Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain have recognized gay marriage, and one day, perhaps, our country will, too.”
Phillips, who lives in Los Angeles, said she isn’t worried that aligning herself with gay rights advocates will cause newspapers to censor or cancel the column, which appears in about 1,400 newspapers.
Her outspokenness on gay rights issues has never caused a strong backlash, said Kathie Kerr, a spokeswoman for Universal Press Syndicate, which distributes the column. It’s possible some editors choose not to run the segments dealing with homosexuality, but if so they have not complained to the syndicate, Kerr said.
“We get brouhahas all the time, and they haven’t been about Dear Abby,” Kerr said.
Phillips realizes not everyone agrees with her on gay rights; she and her husband “argue about this continually,” she said. He thinks civil unions and domestic partnerships “would be less threatening to people who feel marriage is just a religious rite.” She thinks anything less than full marriage amounts to second-class citizenship.
“If gay Americans are not allowed to get married and have all the benefits that American citizens are entitled to by the Bill of Rights, they should get one hell of a tax break. That is my opinion,” said Phillips, who speaks with the no-nonsense tone of someone who is used to settling debates.
Right now, Abby, as Phillips prefers to be called, is working on a reply to a woman who wanted to know whether she should include childhood photographs of her transgender brother-in-law in a family album. The woman is worried what she will tell her children when they see pictures of their uncle as a little girl.
Phillips’ guidance to Worried Reader will be simple, she said: Include the photos, of course. Silence is the enemy. Answer any questions the kids have honestly — Uncle John was born with a body of the wrong sex, so even when he was called Jane he was really John inside.
Phillips said that while it might be tempting to devote an entire column to why she thinks jokes invoking homosexual slurs are in poor taste, she does not plan to spell out her views on gay marriage in print any more directly than she has already.
“If they are my readers, they know how I feel on the subject,” she said. “I don’t think I’m a flaming radical. I’m for civility in life. I’m for treating each other with respect, trying to do the best you can.”
Priest gets life sentence over Argentina junta killings
October 10, 2007
A Roman Catholic priest who compared himself to Jesus Christ was sentenced to life in prison on Tuesday for collaborating in murders, kidnappings and torture during Argentina’s 1976-1983 military dictatorship.
Christian Von Wernich, 69, was chaplain to the Buenos Aires police force. He used this position to obtain confessions from prisoners, which he then passed on to police who tortured them at secret detention centers.
Von Wernich was convicted of complicity in seven murders, 31 cases of torture and 42 abductions in the Buenos Aires region; a mere smattering of the estimated 30,000 disappearances during the military junta’s countrywide purge of leftists.
Von Wernich, the first priest sentenced in Argentina for abuses under the military dictatorship, displayed no emotion as he heard his life sentence, sitting behind a thick pane of glass and wearing a bullet-proof jacket.
Testifying earlier in his defense, he compared himself to Jesus Christ “who was put on trial with support from the people, who asked that he be crucified.”
He accused the witnesses in his trial — all survivors of the torture chambers — of being possessed by the devil.
“The false witness here is the devil, because he is pregnant with malice,” he said staring fixedly at his judges on the podium, behind which a huge cross hung from the wall.
His sentence came at the end of a three-month trial in the town of La Plata, 57 kilometers (35 miles) south of Buenos Aires.
Hundreds of people following the trial celebrated the sentence with songs, by setting off fireworks, and by torching an effigy of Von Wernich.
“Justice has been done. This is a historic day we Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo never thought we’d live to see,” said Tati Almeyda, a member of the group that for 30 years has been pressing for the identification of the victims of the military repression, many of them close family members.
“That a court has acknowledged that genocide exists in our country is an encouragement for us to carry on and justifies so many years of struggle,” Adriana Calvo, of the Association of former Detainees and the Missing told AFP.
The government’s Secretary for Human Rights Eduardo Duhalde welcomed the verdict and said: “Now we think it should be followed up with sentences for all those found guilty of illegal repression.”
The Catholic Church, in a statement issued immediately after the verdict was announced, said it was stricken with pain at seeing “a priest participating in very serious crimes.”
“We believe the steps taken by the justice system in clarifying the facts should help renew every citizen’s effort toward reconciliation and serve as a wake up call to put impunity, hatred and bitterness behind us,” said Buenos Aires Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio who signed the statement.
“If any member of the Church … by recommendation or complicity, endorsed the violent repression, he did so under his own responsibility, straying from and sinning gravely against God, humanity and his own conscience,” he added.
Anti-Abortion Movement Borrows Tactics from the KKK
October 10, 2007
By Carrie Kilman
Every Wednesday and Friday morning, two or three volunteers wearing bright green shirts that read “Pro-Choice, Y’all” assemble in front of Reproductive Health Services in Montgomery, Ala., to escort patients from the parking lot to the front door, past a small sea of anti-abortion protesters.
The protesters carry handmade signs and pictures of fetuses sucking their thumbs. They play violins and blow loudly into horns. They thrust graphic pamphlets at the patients, form prayer circles on the sidewalk, and teach their children to plead with women to not murder their babies. The protesters are mostly women. They look like Sunday school teachers, housewives and hip grandmas. And, during the past few months, they have grown more vocal and more organized, emboldened by the recent closure of the only clinic in Mobile.
Every state in the Deep South — Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina — restricts low-income women’s access to abortion. Most ban abortion after 12 weeks of pregnancy. None explicitly protect heath care facilities from harassment or violence. All have mandatory delay laws that unfairly burden women who have limited access to transportation and time off work, and Louisiana and South Carolina both passed unconstitutional laws requiring a husband’s consent for a married woman’s abortion. In the past 16 months, two abortion clinics in Alabama have closed, and new regulations are making it difficult for other clinics to stay open. Now, anti-abortion groups are strategizing ways to outlaw birth control and eliminate sex education.
Michelle Colon, president of the National Organization for Women’s (NOW) Mid-South region (Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee) calls it a “war on women” — the gravity of which citizens in more progressive parts of the country don’t appreciate. “The rest of the country kind of writes off the South — people feel the battle has been lost here,” Colon says.
Colon is part of a vocal, scrappy cadre of grassroots activists challenging the well-funded, entrenched anti-abortion movement that has long dominated state legislatures and local pulpits across the region. One Southern feminist put it this way: “Women here are sick and tired of being sick and tired.” “It’s not legal, is it?”
Every morning when June Ayers arrives for work, she scans the parking lot for suspicious people and packages before getting out of her car. Ayers owns Reproductive Health Services, one of seven clinics that provide abortions in Alabama. She’s been followed home, trailed at the mall and harassed on her front porch.
Ayers was close friends with David Gunn, a doctor who performed abortions at clinics throughout Alabama and Florida. Anti-abortion protesters plastered Gunn’s face and home phone number to “Wanted” posters and distributed them at rallies. He answered their harassment by blasting Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down”, singing along, and wagging his finger in their direction. In March 1993, Gunn died when a protester shot him three times in the back outside of his clinic in Pensacola, Fla. The doctor on Ayers’ staff now wears a bulletproof vest.
Ayers recently invested in a sprinkler system to keep the protesters at bay. She has also installed concrete stepping-stones across the lawn so patients and escorts can avoid the protesters crowding the sidewalk. She bought orange vests for the escorts, so startled patients can distinguish between protesters and volunteers.
“At least once a month, I have women who call me and ask whether abortion is legal. That type of misinformation is rampant,” says Ayers. “We’re in the middle of the Bible Belt. It’s not just religion, it’s the fanatical religious aspect that keeps stirring people up who are opposed to us.”
It’s a place where the Christian Coalition holds sway over politicians, and many people vote the way they’re told in church. The legislative climate is “very hostile” toward abortion, says Felicia Brown Williams, who oversees Planned Parenthood’s advocacy agenda in Mississippi, one of two states with only one abortion clinic.
Mississippi has passed so many laws governing what abortion clinics can and cannot do that it is virtually impossible to open a second clinic without breaking state law. Mississippi requires permission from both parents for women under 18, except in cases of incest. The state’s conscience clause allows pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control. And earlier this year the Mississippi legislature passed a “trigger law,” immediately making abortion illegal should Roe v. Wade be overturned.
From ‘pro choice’ to ‘reproductive justice’
In the early-1990s, researcher Loretta Ross noticed the anti-abortion movement was borrowing tactics from the Ku Klux Klan — things like “Wanted” posters and targeted bombings. Ross now directs SisterSong, a national reproductive health collective in Atlanta. She travels the country, encouraging groups like Planned Parenthood to adopt a philosophy that SisterSong terms “reproductive justice.”
“Stopping at the right to terminate a pregnancy is woefully inadequate when it comes to the realities of people of color,” Ross says. “We have to fight for three different dimensions of the struggle: We join our pro-choice sisters to fight for the right not to have a child; but as women of color, we have been subjected to various strategies of population control, like forced sterilization, so we also have to fight for the right to have a child, especially in the context of people accusing us of having babies to get on welfare or to stay in the country. And we have to fight for the right to parent the children we already have, thanks to a criminal justice system that’s trying to capture them earlier and earlier.”
Moving from “pro-choice” to “reproductive justice” may prove crucial in the Deep South — home to a fast-growing Latino population — and towns like Montgomery, Ala., which is about 50 percent black.
“There is an unholy alliance between the legislators who oppose civil rights and the legislators who oppose reproductive rights,” Ross says. “As long as we look at reproductive rights only as the politics of gender, we will be missing the guiding script.”
Each year, Operation Save America (OSA) targets different clinics across the United States. Last summer, the group traveled to Jackson, Miss., for a weeklong “siege” to temporarily shut down the state’s only abortion clinic. OSA members, who compare themselves to Martin Luther King Jr., liken abortion to black genocide and lynching. While the anti-abortion movement has made inroads with some black churches, OSA’s references to lynching and Rev. King went too far.
Jackson’s abortion rights community mobilized to protect the last clinic in Mississippi. With volunteers coming from as far as Canada, they organized a door-knocking campaign, traversing Jackson’s communities of color and poor white communities, educating residents about OSA.
Abortion rights supporters from across the South flooded Jackson that week, in a series of counter-rallies and speak-outs called Reproductive Freedom Summer. OSA’s tactics — burning a Gay Pride flag and pages of the Koran, and picketing two Christian churches — created a local uproar. The clinic stayed open. So goes the nation
Other states, like New York or Wisconsin, have achieved a kind of equilibrium, with a mass of vocal supporters on both sides. Outside of cities like Atlanta, this isn’t true of the Deep South.
“People are afraid to be seen at pro-choice events for fear of losing their jobs, or being rejected from church, or their kids being ostracized at school,” says Colon, of Mid-South NOW. In some places in the South, abortion is referred to as the “A word”; and many women, upon arriving for an abortion, tell clinic staff they think abortion is wrong.
“Most of the time, women think they actually deserve the ridicule and harassment from the street protesters,” says Ayers, from the Montgomery clinic. “It’s self-punishment: ‘I deserve to be accosted, because this is the choice I’m making.'”
Last year, Deirdra Harris Glover realized her silence implied tacit approval of Mississippi’s proposed abortion ban. So Glover, an admitted “professional geek,” launched ProChoiceMississippi.org to encourage closeted abortion rights supporters to come out. “Shame is an incredibly dehumanizing tactic used by the anti-abortion movement,” Glover wrote in an email. “They’ve managed to paint abortion as too awful to ever be dragged into the light of day.”
The Deep South’s reproductive rights community has few political allies. In Mississippi and Louisiana, Democrats run on anti-choice platforms. “We don’t have any judges on our side. We don’t have many in the media on our side,” says Colon. “The pro-choice allies in the state legislature are the older black men. The women in the legislature sell us out every time.”
And yet thinking that anti-choice zealotry is only an issue south of the Mason-Dixon line is a mistake. Laws restricting women’s access to healthcare have chipped away at abortion rights in almost every state. In fact, only seven states have laws protecting the right to an abortion.
“In some ways, the South is behind; but in some ways, the South is dictating the rest of the country,” says Ross, of SisterSong. “There wouldn’t be a resurgent right-wing if the rest of the country wasn’t becoming Dixie-fied.”
Colon adds: “If we lose the South, the middle of the country won’t be long.”