Angelina Jolie Hosts Global Summit on Sexual Violence

Jun 18th, 2014


We’ve heard for decades that “war is hell,” but as Angelina Jolie declared at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict which was held last week in London, for millions around the globe, war is rape and the threat of rape. As Jolie and myriad survivors who spoke at the summit clarified and underscored again and again, for generations war and rape have been viewed as inextricable from each other.

Jolie said they need not be.

Jolie organized and co-chaired the summit with U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague.

At the end of the summit, which drew attention to the millions of women and girls, as well as some boys and men, who have been raped in conflict zones, Jolie, Oscar-winning actress and U.N. Special Envoy to the U.N. Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), was made Honorary Dame Commander of the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George (DCMG) by Queen Elizabeth II, “for services to U.K. foreign policy and the campaign to end war zone sexual violence.”


This article originally appeared at Curve digital on June 14, 2014


More than 100 countries were represented at the conference which also put the spotlight on survivors and advocates from around the globe. Experts on sexual violence, members and representatives of NGOs and other international agencies as well as medical personnel working in conflict-torn regions were all in attendance, along with worldwide media.

Jolie, 39, has worked with the UNHCR since 2001 and since 2007 has co-chaired the Education Partnership for Children of Conflict for the Clinton Global Initiative, which funds education programs for children affected by conflict and disaster.

Jolie, who has traveled to more than 30 countries on behalf of UNHRC, said she does the humanitarian work to bring “awareness to the plight of these people. I think they should be commended for what they have survived, not looked down upon.”

Jolie works predominantly with refugees, which has inevitably led her to work with survivors of sexual assault in conflict, as many women and girls fleeing conflict zones have been raped. Jolie has appeared before various congressional committees to address these issues and others related to women and children. Part of her focus as UNHCR Special Envoy has been to push for legislation to aid child refugees and other vulnerable children in both developing nations and the U.S.

The U.N. estimates between 75 and 80 percent of the world’s refugees are women and girls and that women and girls are dramatically impacted by war, conflicts and insurgencies worldwide. The number of sexual assaults–especially gang rapes–perpetrated in these various wars and conflicts over the length of the conflicts is in the millions. According to a report in May 2011 in the American Journal of Public Health, for example, during the insurgency in Congo, four women were raped every five minutes in the DRC. A survivor of rape in Sudan told Jolie at the summit, “I cannot count how many times I was raped by the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army)rebels … I was raped so I couldn’t even move.”

Other details from the summit including that in 2010, 30 percent of women in Eastern Congo reported conflict-related sexual violence and that rape was used as a genocidal tool in Sudan, Rwanda and Bosnia. Many soldiers told their victims that they would now be pregnant with the aggressors’ child, obliterating their own race or nationality–rape used as a form of ethnic cleansing.

Rape has become a tool of conflict, but Jolie opened the summit June 10 stating unequivocally that rape was by no means an inevitable by-product of war. Jolie said, “It is a myth that rape is an inevitable part conflict. There is nothing inevitable about it. It is a weapon of war aimed at civilians. It has nothing to do with sex, everything to do with power.”

The main focus of the summit was addressing all sexual violence that arises out of war and conflict, including sexual trafficking and sexual slavery like that promulgated by Nigeria’s terrorist group, Boko Haram, which took responsibility for abducting 300 Nigerian schoolgirls April 14. [See Curve: Bring Back Our Girls]

The schoolgirls have not been rescued.

Rape of girl children is a particular concern of advocates working with survivors of conflict rape, as are children born of rapes. Women who give birth after being raped are stigmatized and brutalized, often banished from their families and communities, as if they are the criminals, instead of the rapists. Children who are raped suffer lifelong physical and psychological trauma and injury which can also result in ostracization.

Beyond naming the how prevalent rape in conflict is, the goals of the summit included “ending the culture of impunity” by creating an international protocol for documenting and investigating sexual violence in conflict zones; taking steps to protect women, like training soldiers and peacekeepers; creating support for human rights activists and survivors of conflict rape; and making conflict rape a visible issue to be addressed globally.

In addition to the testimony of survivors, medical personnel discussed ways in which rape in conflict could be addressed. Physicians for Human Rights is developing an app to help doctors document evidence of sexual violence with the goal of prosecution.

On June 13,  Secretary of State John Kerry addressed the summit on its final day, asserting it was time for the world to banish conflict rape “to the history books where it belongs. It’s time for us in an age where we see enough of chaos, failed and failing states, to write a new norm, one that protects women, girls, men, boys, protects them from these unspeakable crimes.”               But as U.N. Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said at the conference, “What should be an aberration continues to be an epidemic. We are barely scratching the surface.”

In the end, care for survivors, protection for likely victims, prosecution of perpetrators and an over-arching political will to end rape in conflict is what will create change. The summit was an important step, but what happens next remains to be seen.



The Meaning of Online Threats

Jun 18th, 2014
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It’s not easy being female. On any day–any day at all–I can expect to be called names we can’t print in this newspaper by men who don’t even know me. For women writers like myself with a strong online presence, the day usually begins in two ways–checking one’s Twitter/Facebook accounts for news and messages from friends and deleting messages and blocking people (men) who are abusive and/or threatening. I’ve been told to “get raped,” “die in a fire” and a few mornings ago one man told me he’d like to “smash” my “Jew face in.” (I’m a Catholic, but it just shows how misogyny and hatred of other marginalized groups gets folded together.)

On June 17, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would be addressing a case that dould impact this kind of behavior. Most notably, the high court would be addressing online threats and whether they are protected by the First Amendment as free speech or if they constitute a viable and worrisome threat that must be acted upon.

It’s a very real question for women like me who are threatened every day. I have been harassed and stalked for over a year by a person who works at the University of Pennsylvania in the IT Department–that’s right, Internet security. Yet spends much of their time trolling women on Twitter and Facebook, harassing and threatening them. I’m just one of many, but also one who lives in the same city–which makes the threats seem very close and very scary.

Several weeks ago when this person was threatening me again, I went to the Women’s Law Project to ask for help addressing the problem and my fears, but the law–as the case SCOTUS has chosen to hear shows–is well behind the real life world of Internet bullying, harassment and threats of violence. I left the interview literally sobbing because the woman attorney kept telling me I could only get an order of protection against an intimate partner. “I know you feel threatened and you are threatened,” she told me, “but the law just sees this as words, not actions.”

Tell that to the parents of the students Elliot Rodger murdered May 23 in California. All those online threats that everyone ignored, even when Rodger’s own parents called the police? Those ended in six people all under the age of 25 being killed.

The person threatening, harassing and stalking me hasn’t given up. Even while a relative was dying a week ago, they continued to tweet out daily threats.

Teenagers and college students have killed themselves over the kind of  threats and abuse I have been getting. The law is just now,  20 years in to most of us spending hours online every day, beginning to catch up to the real life world of online threats and harassment.

Yet it still doesn’t recognize how dangerous and damaging it can be. The case SCOTUS has chosen to hear will determine whether threats of violence made on  social media should be judged by whether the person making the threats intended to hurt the person they were threatening  or whether the person being threatened was, like I have been for more than a year, afraid of being harmed.

The case SCOTUS will hear isn’t mine, although I wish it were. It involves an eastern Pennsylvania man, Anthony Elonis, who was convicted in 2010 under federal law for posting violent and graphic threats directed at his ex-wife and coworkers on Facebook. SCOTUS will be deciding “whether, as a matter of statutory interpretation, conviction of threatening another person under 18 U. S. C. §875(c) requires proof of the defendant’s subjective intent to threaten.”

In layperson’s terms, the case is about did they mean it. Did the person really mean they were going to smash your face in, or rape you or set you on fire, or were they, you know, just talking.

In the Pennsylvania case, Elonis was sentenced to nearly four years in federal prison for posting online rants about killing his estranged wife, shooting up a school and slitting the throat of a female FBI agent after his wife left him in 2010, taking their two children.

Elonis’ threats were graphic and extremely violent. About his ex-wife he said, “There’s one way to love you but a thousand ways to kill you.I’m not going to rest until your body is a mess, soaked in blood and dying from all the little cuts. Hurry up and die, b*tch, so I can bust this nut all over your corpse from atop your shallow grave. I used to be a nice guy but then you became a slut. Guess it’s not your fault you liked your daddy raped you. So hurry up and die, b*tch, so I can forgive you.”

His ex-wife was granted a protection from abuse order.

Elonis asserted that his threats were really just like rap lyrics, and no one should take them seriously. He was channeling Eminem, he asserted. Except three women are killed a day by abusive husbands after similar threats. And Eminem had nothing to do with it.

Defending his statements, Elonis  cited a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that stipulated a Virginia law banning cross-burning was unconstitutional for its definition of a “true threat.”The decision required prosecutors show a ‘specific intent to threaten.’”

But then there are those You Tube videos Elliot Rodger posted. Free speech or a clear-cut warning that mayhem was about to ensue?

Elonis’ case has a few disturbing characteristics of Rodger’s, including the wide swathe of people he wanted to kill. One of Elonis’ violent tirades online included stating that he wanted to “initiate the most heinous school shooting ever imagined” at elementary schools, even while under FBI surveillance. In another he said he wanted to smother his wife with a pillow and dump her in a creek so it would look like a rape. And then there is this: After an FBI agent visited Elonis to follow up on the earlier threats, Elonis posted another set of rap lyrics  about slitting her throat. He also claimed he’d had a bomb strapped to him during the talk with the FBI agent.

Elonis  was sentenced to four years in prison.

Free speech advocates may argue that the First Amendment supersedes all else and that is theoretically true. But the First Amendment limitation that one cannot shout fire in a crowded theater applies here. Intent isn’t the issue so much as  the harm done to the person being threatened.

Being threatened, being worn down by threats, is impactful enough. Elonis’ wife testified that she was “terrified” by his threats. “I felt like I was being stalked. I felt extremely afraid for mine and my children’s and my families’ lives,” Elonis’ former wife testified.

According to an article in Slate, during his trial, Elonis’ was told that “the legal standard for whether something is an unprotected ‘true threat’ is if an objective person could consider Elonis’ posts to be threatening. Elonis claims that the correct test should look at whether he intended for the posts to be understood as threats.”

In the era of a mass shooting every week, with more than half of those a result of  domestic violence, the court must weigh the perils to the victim in the case.

Women are taught as girls to be careful all the time, because the threats against us are very real–FBI stats show one in four girls under 18 will be sexually abused, one in five adult women will be raped. Domestic violence is the most common violent crime in the U.S. according to the FBI.

Will SCOTUS weigh all these things in deciding Elonis’ case, situating it within the larger context of violence against women and girls where it belongs? Will SCOTUS consider the fear someone like me feels every day, dodging both attacks and the fear of, anticipation of attacks?

What the court needs to address is the silencing effect of online threats. We are afraid to speak. We develop anxiety. We live in fear.

So when SCOTUS considers the facts, it needs to consider what it’s like for the woman who is being harassed and stalked online–and find in favor of women, for once.


This article originally appeared in The Independent on June 18, 2014.


The Penis Monologues

Jun 10th, 2014
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There was a little rhyme about Barbie and Ken when I was growing up: “Their love life was a failure/’cause they had no genitalia.”

Fast-forward a few decades and I read a blogpost (see url below) asserting that genitalia are irrelevant to one’s “love life.”

No. Just…no.

It took literal millennia for women to be at a place in historical time when we could claim the right to our own genitalia and what we want to do with said lady parts. We are not about to forfeit that right. We’re not forfeiting it for the GOP and Tea Party in the U.S., the Tories and UKIP in the U.K., and we’re damned not forfeiting it for random bloggers with rapey constructs of who and what women should do with our vaginas, vulvas, clitorises, cunts, pussies, vajajays, what-have-you.

The sleazy, creepy little blogpost by yet another anonymous blogger claiming to be feminist even as she spews the most anti-feminist of rhetoric  takes all women to task for their lack of imagination in daring to put their own desires and their own bodies first, rather than devote them to the service of penises.

No. Just…no.

It begins innocently enough. The blogger as a three-year-old apparently ran about asking everyone in sight if they had “a willy or a vagina.” This is either precocious or disturbing, depending on your parenting and language techniques, but in either case, she was taught or learned randomly that this was bad form.

Now our blogger is obsessed anew, just as she was at three. This time she’s obsessed with what other people might be calling genitalia. So obsessed, she has to project her obsession onto others, insisting it is us, not her, who can’t stop talking about it.

No, it’s not us, it’s you.

She cites male obsession with female genitalia.

This is where–and in only the second paragraph, too–things begin to go off-kilter. In reality, where most women live (but not our blogger, who lives in a “Vampire Castle,” which would be clever if she were still three, less charming in an adult), men are not obsessed with women’s genitalia.

Men may be obsessed with getting laid, but if they are obsessed with any genitalia, it is their own. Penises. Men like to fiddle with their penises in public. (When was the last time you saw a woman adjust her crotch while walking down the street? Yes, that would be never.) They like to talk about their penises endlessly. (Yet in the U.S. a woman was actually banned from saying the word “vagina” on a state legislative house floor when discussing a reproductive rights bill and there was a recent protest over a “Night of a Thousand Vaginas,” a benefit for reproductive rights in Texas.)

Women pretty much never talk about penises unless some man brings up the subject. And that’s actually the case about our own equipment as well. We don’t just randomly discuss our vaginas, as in, “Hi hun–how are you and your vagina today?”

This is in stark contrast to men who do go on about their penises–and on and on. Women generally need a context, and that context isn’t just breathing or a day ending in y.

Yet our blogger would have us believe this is a constant and unending discussion for women. Genitalia. Men’s and women’s.

No. Just…no.

Maybe on the Interwebs among your 12k followers, dear, but not in real life. In real life we have far more pressing concerns and interests.

Our blogger contends the alleged male obsession with female genitalia means, “Among misogynists, it’s a classic male entitlement to sex: they believe our bodies to be public property and they are therefore allowed access to every inch of them.”

I agree with the statement, just not how she got there. Men do believe they are entitled to our bodies. That is why I and nearly every woman I know is a rape or child-sex abuse survivor or both. That is why women have to fight for reproductive rights. That is why women can’t actually name their own genitalia in public spaces without men trying to shut us up.

But our blogger doesn’t see men as the problem. Like most women with deeply internalized misogyny, she believes women are the problem. In particular, lesbians who want the same bodily autonomy we’ve helped heterosexual women attain.

After stating, unequivocally, that she knows men believe women’s bodies are public property, our blogger then goes on to tell us we must give in to acculturated male entitlement and accept that anyone who wants to should indeed have control over our bodies.

Our lesbian bodies.

I don’t think so.

It wasn’t being raped and nearly killed recently that turned me off men. I’ve had sex with men in the past and it was fine. Perfectly adequate. Not terribly inventive, but then that’s men.

That’s not women.

Now here I want to say I am not dissing heterosexual/bisexual women in any way. Your desires are your own. I want you to have the same thrilling sexcapades every woman deserves in 2014. Mine are with women. With vaginas. My interest in penises is, as a lesbian, nil.

Our blogger, however, thinks that’s bigoted. And limited. And unimaginative.

No. Just…no.

This same blogger, from the ivory tower of her Vampire Castle, asserted, “I’ve known for a long time that men are often thinking about my cunt, and that’s why I don’t really enjoy the company of men that much.”

So–you don’t like the company of men that much. Many women would understand that–straight, bisexual and lesbian.

But then we are informed–no, told–that the real problem is women are also thinking about our blogger’s cunt. Obsessively. And in women-only spaces, no less. And it makes her feel “unsafe.”

I’ve been a lesbian for a long time. I was expelled from my all-girl’s high school for being a lesbian when my girlfriend’s mother discovered our affair and called the school. I’ve been a lesbian activist since then. And yet rarely, outside of the Westboro Baptist Church crowd or a meeting of an ex-gay group have I heard such a repulsively, outrageously lesbophobic/homophobic/queer-fear statement.

It’s possibly the most appalling thing I’ve ever heard a self-proclaimed feminist say.

She’s saying other women are rapey. She’s saying women in women-only spaces make these spaces unsafe. She’s saying lesbians are predatory and might sexually assault her. She claims that these women–these marauding, uncontrollable and uncontrolled lesbians–are terrifying her. They are, she asserts, far more frightening than men.

Lesbians are more frightening than the men who rape women every 22 minutes in the U.K. and every 8 minutes in the U.S.? Who kill women every day?

No. Just…no.

She writes, “Knowing that there are women who do this too [think about her cunt] makes me feel less safe in women’s spaces, like they might just suddenly ask me about my cunt or grab at my crotch to make sure I have correctly-shaped equipment.”

There is, of course, not only no statistical evidence to support this outrageous claim of women randomly sexually assaulting other women. It’s actually just something she’s imagined. It is not in fact true. She’s simply told us that she believes this. And so we should believe her.

I don’t believe her.

Quite simply, she’s lying. She’s invented a lie about lesbians and she’s spreading it as far and wide as she can.

I have never been in any space, public or private, with rapey women. I don’t believe they exist. I think the scary bulldagger virago of 1950s pulp fiction was an invention of men who felt threatened by the idea of lesbians “taking their women,” and in any event, that trope has long disappeared off the landscape except in right-wing, neo-fundamentalist settings. It might be the bogey-woman under our blogger’s bed at the Vampire Castle, but on Planet Earth where feminists and lesbians reside, it’s a figment of the blogger’s imagination.

A dangerous, damaging, vilely homophobic figment that she’s spreading among her 12k followers as if it were fact. Like gay men being pedophiles. Or Jews killing Christian babies. Or Muslims being terrorists.

It’s that despicable. It’s that wrong.

I’m not sure who this blogpost is in service to. It’s barely been tweeted or liked on Facebook, but our blogger sent out a series of vicious, slur-filled tweets to match her vile post, asserting that radical feminists were destroying the Western world by wanting sexual autonomy and other similarly hyperbolic claims.

I don’t know what to do with anti-feminist women. Feminism is the only rational political tool for women and it’s the only thing that will eventually humanize masculinity. But this lesbophobe calling herself feminist takes us back literally 50 years to Betty Friedan’s purge of NOW from the curse of the “lavender menace.”

The basic tenet of feminism is now, was a century ago and will be in perpetuity that women get to control their bodies. That’s fundamental. We get to decide who touches us and where and when. We get to decide who we fall in love with, who we desire and who we don’t desire. We get to decide what we will and will not allow in our vaginas. Consent matters. It can’t be forced. Not by men, not by random bloggers.

In 2014, no matter how many variations on a sexual identity theme there are on Facebook, in the real world, off the Interwebs, women have fought hard and long and desperately for autonomy and agency. Women have given their lives for it. A century ago Emily Davison gave her life so that women could have agency, so that women could have freedom.

The anniversaries of D-Day and Davison’s death should call to mind the importance of fighting against fascism in all its invidious forms. That includes attempts to wrest choice from any woman.

The struggle for women to own our bodies is still being waged across the globe. We are still being forced by rape and FGM, forcible marriage and punitive anti-lesbian laws, lesbian corrective rape and even murder to succumb to the pervasiveness of male violence. But what we won’t be forced to do, on the anniversary of Davison’s death or any other day, is to fuck someone just because some lesbophobic blogger tells us if we don’t, we’re less evolved than she is.

Feminists don’t tell other women who to fuck. That’s what men do. That’s what men have done for millennia. And when we haven’t done as they’ve told us, they’ve forced us.

It’s not lesbians and feminists in women’s spaces who are the danger here. It’s an historically illiterate blogger who thinks women should submit to penises because we have for millennia when we had no choice. That was never an acceptable dictate. And still isn’t.


This post originally appeared in Room of Our Own: A Feminist Network on June 11, 2014

It references this post, which I am loathe to include, but here it is:







Violence Against Women: Are All Men Complicit?

Jun 5th, 2014
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Yes All Men

Dave Zirin Twitter
One week ago Elliot Rodger sent his 141-page autobiographical manifesto, “My Twisted World” to his parents, therapist, police and various mental health professionals. Then he stabbed his two roommates and their friend to death and went to the nearby sorority house he was obsessed with to kill all the women there. When he couldn’t get in, he shot the first three women he saw, killing two. He then drove around, running over five people and shooting eight more, killing one of them, before being wounded by police and finally killing himself.
The entire killing spree lasted only ten minutes. He had 400 rounds of ammunition and three semi-automatic weapons when he was found by police.
Since the mayhem on May 23, a spontaneous outpouring of sentiments and stories by women about their own experiences with male violence was localized in a Twitter hashtag, #YesAllWomen. The hashtag sprang up within hours of Rodger’s rampage and 48 hours later Twitter noted more than a million tweets had been posted.
The social media frenzy ran counter to the meme being promulgated by mainstream media that Elliot Rodger’s disturbing videos and manifesto–rife with his hatred of women–was all about mental illness and not about women at all.
Rodger is pretty much out of the news cycle already, 24/7 news being what it is. What is not out of the news cycle is male violence against women.
Just days after Rodger’s spree killing two events horrified many: the honor killing of a pregnant Pakistani woman, Farzana Parveen, 25, who was stoned to death on the street in Lahore and the rape/murders of 14 and 16 year old cousins in India. The Indian teens were hung from a mango tree after they were killed. Police witnessed the stoning of Parveen, but did not intervene.
Investigations are underway in both cases.
The focus on the killing of Parveen and the two girls deflected attention away from Rodger’s mass shooting and also diverted discussion away from the intense misogyny in his videos and manifesto. Mainstream media and men on social media also shifted the tone of the discourse over male violence, who perpetrates it and who are its “real” victims. Even David Frum, senior editor at The Atlantic and a contributor to CNN said that women in the U.S. needed to stop whining about misogyny and take a look at victims of acid burnings in Asia, as if violence “over there” mitigates violence here.
The stoning of Parveen and acid burnings in India and elsewhere in Asia are acts of horrendous violence. Honor killings are a shockingly medieval crime against women in a 21st century world.
Yet focusing on only these crimes against women negates the global nature of crimes against women in the U.S., U.K. and other countries in the developed world where there is not only just as much violence against women as in the developing world, in many places there is more.
There is no qualitative difference between a woman being raped on her way to get water in a developing country and a woman being raped on her way to a convenience store in a developed country. The implication that crimes against women in Pakistan or India are worse implies that there are no crimes against women in the U.S. or other developed nations.
That’s a male narrative about violence against women.
There are more rapes in the U.S. than in any other country–according to the FBI, 250,000 each year. In the EU it is not the Eastern bloc nations or those on the border between two worlds like Turkey or Albania that are the rape capitals but Sweden, one of the most progressive countries in the EU. Rape is so prevalent, one in three women will be a victim of rape, according to the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention.
Acts of shocking violence occur in the West, too. On May 27, just a few days after Rodger’s shooting spree, Tahira Ahmed was found decapitated in her London home. Her husband of 14 years, Naheed, was arrested in her murder. Both her arms had been broken and she had been stabbed multiple times. Yet her gruesome killing wasn’t the London headline–the stoning of Parveen a continent away was. Pretending violence against women is “foreign” erases victims and racializes male violence.
According to the World Health Organization, violence against women is pandemic. The attitudes described by Elliot Rodger are not the anomaly many men would have us believe. #YesAllWomen told endless stories in millions of tweets about misogyny and brutality–crimes against women never punished by law or even societal opprobrium. But the majority of the women tweeting were in the West.
The reality is, violence against women is not one random outburst by a possibly mentally ill man. It is all around us. And women need to use whatever tools possible, from hashtags to the #YesAllWomen rallies being held to getting rape kits tested to demanding men be held accountable for their crimes until more attention is paid to victims, than to perpetrators.
Victoria A. Brownworth is an award-winning journalist, editor and writer. She has won the NLGJA and the Society of Professional Journalists awards, the Lambda Literary Award and has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. She won the 2013 SPJ Award for Enterprise Reporting. She is a regular contributor to The Advocate and SheWired,a blogger for Huffington Post and a contributing editor for Curve magazine andLambda Literary Review. Her book, From Where We Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth won the 2012 Moonbeam Award for cultural&historical fiction. Her novel,Ordinary Mayhem, will be published in fall 2014. @VABVOX
Police knew about UCSB killer Elliot Rodger’s videos but didn’t watch

Two Indian sisters ‘gang-raped’, killed and hanged from a tree …
Nigeria gets deportation reprieve

#Childmarriage is a major psychological trauma and should be considered as no less” says activist in #Pakistan
/omeraziz12“Hatred of women, not Islam, fuels Pakistan’s honour killings”

This article originally appeared in Curve magazine on June 4, 2014

Would Hillary Clinton Be Our First Lesbian President?

Jun 5th, 2014
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“I’m telling you, Hilary Clinton will be having sex with a woman on the White House desk if it becomes popular.”

Said proclaimed Right-wing radio host and Republican political pundit Glenn Beck on April 29. Beck also implied that the former Secretary of State, who is expected to run for president in 2016, was actually a lesbian, joking with his sidekicks on The Glenn Beck Program. Beck had been discussing same-sex marriage and asserted that Democrats were hypocrites on the issue, relying on focus groups, polls and Hollywood to tell them it was okay to support marriage equality.
Beck said, “You’re saying this is the civil rights issue of our day and you were such a coward you couldn’t do it [without being told it was okay].”
Beck went on to joke about the former First Lady. “What I heard you just say is that Hillary came out last year!” Beck said to one of his co-hosts who had said the former Secretary had come out for marriage equality. “Because I didn’t think that was official…” Beck went on to assert, “She’ll be like, ‘Look, the arc of history wasn’t ready for a president to be a lesbian and have sex on the desk.’”

With this salvo Beck revived a long-time rumor about Hillary Clinton that has surfaced repeatedly over the years, that she is a lesbian and her marriage to Bill Clinton is a sexless front. The rumor has been repeated by conservative and even liberal pundits as far back as Hillary’s years as First Lady–of Arkansas.

Attacks on Hillary Clinton are not new. As Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman noted in their not-so-nice profile of Hillary for the upcoming May/June issue of Politico, she’s “been smeared and stereotyped, the subject of dozens of over-hyped or downright fictional stories and books alleging, among other things, that she is a lesbian, a Black Widow killer who offed Vincent Foster then led an unprecedented coverup, a pathological liar, a real estate swindler, a Commie, a harridan. Every aspect of her personal life has been ransacked; there’s no part of her 5-foot-7-inch body that hasn’t come under microscopic scrutiny, from her ankles to her neckline to her myopic blue eyes—not to mention the ever-changing parade of hairstyles that friends say reflects creative restlessness and enemies read as a symbol of somebody who doesn’t stand for anything.”
And of course New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd has famously taken Hillary to task for everything from hairstyles to “cankles” to being a manipulative female, noting, “Hillary often aims to use gender to her advantage, or to excuse mistakes.”

Yet it is the charge that Hillary is a lesbian to which the Right keeps returning and upon which it seems fixated. It is also the rumor most likely to damage her in a run for president in 2016–a run that polls indicate at present is hers to lose.

Washington Post poll released the same day as Beck’s pronouncements shows Hillary Clinton leading all candidates in both parties with an overwhelming lead. Her nearest rival is Republican Jeb Bush who trails her by 12 points–a landslide gap in an actual election.
Which makes smearing Hillary–the most accomplished woman or man to ever run for president in the U.S.–a must for many. Despite recent gains in LGBT rights in the U.S., a lesbian or bisexual president may be pushing the political envelope. The focus on Hillary’s sexuality also revives discussion of her husband’s infidelities. And detracts from her political messages, a major one of which is equality for women worldwide.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Internet stories abounded about Hillary being a lesbian. Gennifer Flowers, alleged former mistress of President Bill Clinton, had insisted that Hillary was bisexual, giving interviews in which she even suggested Hillary might be having an affair with her deputy chief of staff, Huma Abedin (now wife of former congressman Anthony Weiner), as she and Abedin were often photographed close together, their heads almost touching. Articles in various political magazines and even liberal publications like Harper’s during the presidential primary arched eyebrows at the relationship between the two.
In her memoir, Flowers wrote of a conversation she had with Bill Clinton, “‘There’s something you need to know. I’ve been hearing tales around town that Hillary is having another thing with a woman.’ I watched his face to see his reaction, and couldn’t believe it when he burst out laughing. I was stunned! I asked him what was so funny.
‘Honey,’ he said, ‘she’s probably eaten more p**** than I have.’ Bill said he had known for a long time that Hillary was attracted to women, and it didn’t really bother him anymore.”

In his 2005 book The Truth About Hillary, former New York Times Magazine editor Edward Klein stated that Hillary was bisexual at least. He implied that Hillary had had affairs while at Wellesley College with classmates, among them Nancy Pietrafesa, a married mother of three.

When asked for comment, Pietrafesa was adamant that the two had never been anything more than friends. She was quoted in the Syracuse Post Standard, saying, “Women who are accomplished, whose ambitions, behavior, accomplishments make some people uncomfortable with their own, can really expect their sexuality questioned or slurred, denigrated,” Pietrafesa said.
David Brock, gay journalist and former conservative who wrote his own scathing book about Hillary, The Seduction of Hillary Rodham, has since renounced his conservatism, apologized to Clinton and become a fundraiser for liberal Democrats. Brock has repeatedly argued that the treatment Hillary has received in the media is nothing short of sexism.
For her part, Hillary has never responded to the lesbian rumors. She did make a lovely tribute video in support of marriage equality for HRC in March 2013, which Bryan Fischer, head of the conservative and anti-gay American Family Association, insisted proved she was indeed a lesbian. “The bottom line is that if Hillary Clinton becomes president in 2016, she will not only be our first female president, she could be our first lesbian president,” he said on his radio show Focal Point.

Hillary Clinton has yet to announce she’s running for president in 2016. As for the attacks, Hillary remains a stalwart supporter of women and of LGBT rights, as she makes clear in the HRC video. Hillary knows where she stands with the media–right or left. (In 2008, MSNBC pundit Keith Olbermann famously suggested she needed to be physically beaten up to get her out of the primaries she was then winning.)

At a recent speech in New York she spoke out on sexism in the media, saying, “There is a double standard, obviously. We have all either experienced it, or have seen it. There is a deep set of cultural, psychological views that are manifest through this double standard…Some of these attitudes persist, and if they persist in as open, and in many ways transformational society as ours is in the 21st century, you know how deep they are.”
Tarring a political figure of the stature of Hillary Clinton with the charge of lesbianism–a 1950s gambit–is exactly the kind of view she’s talking about. Being gay is still seen as the worst thing that can be said about a public figure–and it has repeatedly been applied to strong women in power. If Hillary does run for president, we can expect to hear it again and again, and whether it’s true or not will never really be the issue.
This article originally appeared in Curve magazine May 1, 2014.

Nigerian Schoolgirls Aren’t the Only Ones Missing

Jun 5th, 2014
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It’s the hashtag heard round the world: #BringBackOurGirls. Everyone from First Lady Michelle Obama to British Prime Minister David Cameron to human rights activist Malala Yousafzai to a plethora of celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres and Angelina Jolie, who is Special Envoy to UNCHR, has joined the social media chorus over the abduction of nearly 300 Nigerian schoolgirls by the militant Islamist group Boko Haram. The girls were abducted from the Chibok Government Secondary School on April 14.

It took more than a week for any mention of the abduction to reach beyond Nigeria, which is Africa’s most populous nation.

A Nigerian women’s rights activist, Onbiageli Ezekwesili first used the phrase #BringBackOurGirls on Twitter. Ramaa Mosley, a human rights advocate and filmmaker in Los Angeles started a Facebook page of the same name at the same time. Since April 23rd the phrase has been circulating the globe, finally resulting in attention by world leaders more than two weeks after the girls’ abduction. It’s been tweeted over a million times and the Facebook page has over 100,000 members.

The hashtag–dismissed by conservative pundits on Fox News May 12 as “not relevant in the real world”–is credited with bringing attention to the kidnapping.

It had taken 20 days for Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to issue a statement about the kidnapping and ask for help from the West. That same day, May 5, Nigerian first lady Patience Jonathan called for the arrest of women protesting the abduction and the lack of response from the Nigerian government. In a particularly nasty exchange, Mrs. Jonathan is alleged to have declared that there was no actual kidnapping, that protesters had invented the story to make the government look bad.

But Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is a sin,” had released a 57-minute video that day, claiming responsibility for the kidnapping and threatening to sell the abducted schoolgirls into sex slavery.

May 9, the U.S. sent a team of advisers to Nigeria to assist the government in the search for the girls. On May 12, another video was released by Boko Haram, purportedly of about 130 of the kidnapped girls dressed in hijab, reciting “Praise be to Allah, the lord of the world.” It was the first time any of the girls had been seen since their abduction.

Abubakar Shekau, leader of Boko Haram, said the girls, who were kidnapped from a Christian area, had converted to Islam. Shekau also said, “I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah. There is a market for humans.”

The release of the video sparked more protests throughout Nigeria.

The most disturbing aspect of this harrowing kidnapping is it’s not the only one. It’s just the one the world is paying attention to–largely due to the pressure from social media on elected officials and politicians like Obama, Cameron, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others. But Shekau is correct: there is a market for humans–particularly girls and women.

An estimated million women and girls are trafficked each year and Nigeria is a nexus for such traffic. There are an estimated 30 million slaves worldwide, more than at any time in recorded history. They are sex and domestic slaves and more than 80 percent are women and girls. Anti-slavery groups like Walk Free Foundation say three-quarters of a million of those slaves are already in Nigeria.

The majority of human trafficking is for sex. Only about 20 percent is for domestic or other labor, which means the kidnapped girls are, as Shekau said in his original video, likely to be sold as sex slaves.

It won’t cost much. The average price of a girl is only $90, which is why many NGOs have been covertly and overtly “buying back” abducted women and girls in recent years. After the Nigerian schoolgirls were abducted it was rumored that they were already being sold for as little as $12. In 2008, ABC news senior correspondent Dan Harris did a special investigation for Nightline in which he went from New York City to Port-au-Prince, Haiti to buy a domestic slave.

He was able to do so in 10 hours time, for $100.

Sex trafficking is an issue former Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright have prioritized and Hillary spoke out last week about it and the recent abductions. In 1998 then-President Bill Clinton organized an anti-trafficking program run by the State Department and set up a website, focused on data and information related to trafficking. Albright was the chair, Hillary the honorary chair.

The website currently asserts that the U.S. is “primarily a destination country,” but acknowledges American women have been trafficked to other countries. About 50,000 women and girls are trafficked into the U.S. each year.

According to the U.S. State Department, trafficked victims come from Southeast Asia and Latin America, but former Eastern and Soviet bloc nations traffic women to much of Europe. Women have been trafficked to the U.S. mainly for the sex industry, sweatshop labor, domestic servitude and agricultural work. The average age of trafficking victims in the U.S. is 20 years old, but the average age of sex-trafficked girls is 13 to 17. In Africa, girls and women are trafficked throughout central Africa and into the Eastern bloc.

Human trafficking is the third largest global crime industry after drugs and arms trafficking. More than half of the money made in the business of trading in women and girls is made in developed nations.

On May 12, the New York state legislature put forward a bill to enact tougher penalties against sex traffickers. State legislators said the bill would curb the trafficking of thousands of girls and women each year in New York state.

Anti-trafficking activists insist that education of girls and women is a primary weapon against trafficking, which makes the abduction of the Nigerian schoolgirls all the more tragic. This was their opportunity to escape too-early marriage and a life of servitude. Now, their future and that of so many others remains disturbingly uncertain.

Victoria A. Brownworth is an award-winning journalist, editor and writer. She has won the NLGJA and the Society of Professional Journalists awards, the Lambda Literary Award and has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. She is a regular contributor to The Advocate and SheWired, a blogger for Huffington Post and a contributing editor for Curve magazine andLambda Literary Review. Her book, From Where We Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth won the 2012 Moonbeam Award for cultural&historical fiction. Her novel, Ordinary Mayhem, will be published in fall 2014. @VABVOX

Follow #BringBackOurGirls on Twitter

Follow BringBackOurGirls on Facebook: The main page for news is Follow for updates. There are also pages in the UK, Canada, South Africa, Australia, DK (Germany) and France.

Further reading:

U.S. ramps up search for Nigerian girls with “surveillance flights”

Nigerian terrorists bargain for girls’ release

Boko Haram video claims to show missing girls

How to Buy a Child in 10 Hours – Dan Harris – ABC News

Malala calls on the world to “save my sisters” in Nigeria.


This article originally appeared in Curve magazine on May 14, 2014.


Deportation of Lesbians on the Rise in US/UK

Jun 5th, 2014
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Her handsome face with the beautiful eyes and full lips looks straight at you, the seeming serenity of her gaze belying the abject terror she now feels. Her voice is clear and strong, the accent of her native Nigeria apparent. Now 47, Aderonke Apata had the same partner for 20 years back in Africa. Almost no one knew she was a lesbian–until they did. After Apata fled to the UK in 2004, her partner was murdered–one of many lesbians who have been killed in the 38 countries throughout Africa that criminalize lesbians and gay men.

Apata has already had a death sentence imposed on her. She told Curve some of the chilling details. “I never verbally came out to anyone in Nigeria,” Apata explained, “but people had their suspicions about me. I was arrested, tortured and extorted by the Nigerian Police due to my sexuality. There is a death sentence–stoning to death–currently on me passed by the Sharia Court in Nigeria following a false allegation of adultery against me.”

Violence surrounded Apata when she fled Nigeria. Her son was stabbed to death, her elder brother was murdered defending her family against violence. As soon as Apata arrived in the UK, she applied for asylum, in fear for her life. But the threats followed her.

“Upon my arrival [in the UK] I have received death threats from people I knew in Nigeria threatening to kill me if I ever returned,” Apata says. The threats could not be more clear–death awaits her there.

Apata reads some of these: “If you step your foot on the soil anywhere in Nigeria, I promise you will not see the light of day… you are a dead person if you come to this country.” and “We will kill her the same way we killed her friend ‘K’ We make sure we stone her to death or set her ablaze by all means… as soon as she arrives here we are waiting for her at the airport.

The anti-gay sentiment from Nigeria knows no borders. Apata explains, “Even in Manchester I was physically attacked by a woman I didn’t even know, I presume she was Nigerian, who said ‘I don’t know if you are a man or a woman, but I know what you are, you are one of them that suck women’s pussy’ which I reported to the police. If I was in Nigeria I would not be able to report to the police because it would mean going to the government and report myself for homosexuality! So who would I have gone to call to come to my rescue?’

Her fears of these threats are hardly without merit.

In January, Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan signed one of the most restrictive anti-gay laws in Africa, imposing sentences of 10 years in prison on same-sex couples seen kissing or visiting a gay club. Repeat offenders can be jailed for life. Known lesbians and gay men can be sentenced to life in prison, simply on the word of others. Having lived an out lesbian life for a decade in the UK, Apata faces certain imprisonment—if she gets that far.

When lesbian activist Jackie Nanyonjo was deported from the UK back to her native Uganda a year ago, she died as a result of injuries she received during her deportation from Bedfordshire’s notorious Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Center. Yarl’s Wood has been the site of numerous hunger strikes by women protesting rapes, racial intimidation and indefinite detentions. The UN has put the center on a watch list.

Demo for Jackie Nanyonjo from Movement for Justice on Vimeo.

Apata was detained in Yarl’s Wood for more than a year after serving a prison sentence for working illegally. She says it is not an immigration center but “a detention center, a concentration camp” and that it she “never knew what was going to happen to me there.”

In the past year more and more lesbians from various African countries have been held in detention after seeking asylum. In December, a young Ugandan lesbian, Prossie N, 20, was deported back to Uganda after her asylum request was rejected, despite appeals to the Home Office.

On April 10, Anne Nasozzi, another lesbian asylum seeker, was forcibly returned to Uganda, put on a flight by officials from Yarl’s Wood.

Nasozzi had fled Uganda last December after her house, where 11 other lesbians lived, was mobbed and set on fire. Nasozzi escaped and fled to England. From December until April 10 when her asylum request was denied, she was detained at Yarl’s Wood.

The detention system and the Byzantine process of asylum is barbaric, as Apata describes it. She asserts, “I look at you to help [me], I run to you and what do you do? You lock me up.”

The UK now requires videotaped testimony detailing a woman’s lesbian relationships–including sexual encounters. The British government alleges it has to be certain women aren’t just pretending to be gay. Apata, who says she has always been reserved about her sexuality, has called the process “pornographic.”

But the clock is ticking on her bid for asylum. “I have been through two tribunal reviews, and filed two appeals of my case,” she says. “Now, my case is going to the High Court for review, and if they decide to deny my application, my deportation would be imminent.”

And has been proven recently, the Home Office is in a deportation mood.

On April 11 petitions with thousands of names were presented to the Home Office in both London and Liverpool on behalf of Apata. Her asylum request was scheduled to be heard by the High Court on April 15.

Apata says, “The most important things people can do is sign my petition, and the one for all asylum seekers on Causes at Through this campaign, supporters will be updated with the result of the decision from the High Court, and be able to help should there be another call to action.”

Interview with Aderonke Apata

The case against Apata’s deportation is simple and she explains it succinctly, “If I were to return to Nigeria, I would face persecution, torture, and likely death for being gay.”

Death by fire or stoning.

The UK must grant her asylum, now. The Home Office cannot have the blood of yet another lesbian on its hands.


This article originally appeared in Curve magazine. To see the videos embedded, go to

#YesAllWomen /#NotAllMen

Jun 5th, 2014
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It was one act of male violence too many. That was both trigger and impetus. After Elliot Rodger, women had had enough. Every raw emotion about every act of violence against women–personal or witnessed–was coming to the fore. It began on May 24 and by May 27 there had been more than a million–a million–tweets with the hash tag #YesAllWomen.

#YesAllWomen have felt the threat that not one of the victims of Elliot Rodger had time to feel. #YesAllWomen know what it is to fear the sudden footstep behind them as they walk to public transportation or to where they parked their car. They know what it is to be in the dorm room with the new boyfriend who is tired of the friend zone. They know what it is like to be felt up on the bus or at a concert or in a mall by a total stranger.

They know what it is to keep silent and pretend none of this really matters.

On May 24, they–we–had had enough. It was the morning after the massacre and women were hung over with anger and grief, fear and outrage.

On May 23, a Friday night, Elliot Rodger went on a shooting spree that killed six people, wounded 13 and left Isla Vista, Calif. forever marked as that town where that guy who hated women killed all those students.

It wasn’t new, a mass killing by a young man in America. According to the FBI, mass shootings happen about every two weeks. Half of those are domestic violence: men killing wives/partners and their children or other family members. The FBI characterizes a mass shooting as four or more victims.

We’ve seen myriad shootings like this in recent years. It feels like it began with Columbine and Virginia Tech, then exploded with the 2011 Arizona shooting that injured Rep. Gabby Giffords and 18 others and killed six. But then there was Aurora and Foot Hood and the slaughter of first graders at Newtown, and then the Washington Naval Yard shooting.

A meme about these killings has sprung up: young, angry, mentally ill white guys with a massive amount of guns. For the most part that’s been true–a few of these shooters have been men of color, but white men have been the norm.

Elliot Rodger wasn’t white, he was Eurasian as he preferred to be called, with an Asian mother and a British father. He also wasn’t obviously mentally ill like African-America mass shooter Aaron Alexis, who had been hearing voices for weeks prior to going to the Washington Naval Yard last September and killing 12 people, or the Aurora movie theater shooter James Holmes who killed 12 and injured 70 in 2012. Holmes, too, had been hearing voices. Adam Lanza, the Newtown shooter, had mental health problems as did Jared Lee Loughner, the man who shot Giffords.

Media reports of Elliot Rodger began in much the same way–he was mistaken for white, mistaken for deranged. But then the portrait of a sociopath as a young man started to emerge and as that picture was formulated, women began to get upset, then angry, then speak out.

What was it about Elliot Rodger that touched nerves none of the other mass shooters had?

It was his plan to kill women. Lots of women. Starting with his favorites–blondes–and “hot sorority girls,” then expanding to include every woman he could murder.

His 141 page “manifesto,” My Twisted World, Rodger detailed a series of scenarios in which he would “destroy” women. These included his desire to put all women in concentration camps where he would starve them to death and also torture the pretty ones by flaying them alive. His intent was clear from the outset — he wanted to “wage a war against all women.” Women were, he said again and again, the source of all his pain and suffering.


“I would have an enormous tower built just for myself, where I can oversee the entire concentration camp and gleefully watch them all die,” he wrote. “If I can’t have them, no one will, I imagine thinking to myself as I oversee this. Women represent everything that is unfair in this world, and in order to make this world a fair place, women must be eradicated.”

It’s unsurprising his parents called police when they saw his equally angry videos, precursors to the “manifesto.” Unfortunately, the police were charmed where women never had been and Rodger convinced them nothing was wrong. Several weeks later, carnage.

He outlined his plan to kill all the women in the sorority house near the apartment he shared with two roommates who he would later stab to death, along with one of their visiting friends. He was obsessed with blondes, the only women he was attracted to, and when the women at the Alpha Phi sorority refused to let him in, he shot the first women he saw–Veronika Weiss and Katie Cooper died. A third young woman is still hospitalized.

What was it about Rodger that spurred the massive response from women on Twitter? Was it Rodger’s misogynist hatred for women and his blaming of them for all his problems, or was it that women were his intended victims, the reason for his killing spree and the media was ignoring that fact, going with the usual “crazy white kid with guns” meme?

Not all men pick up their guns when they can’t get the woman they want, but that’s what Rodger did. Furious with women that he was still a virgin, he made video after video about his anger. Those videos were there for us women to see. We could hear the now-dead killer in his own low, eerily emotionless voice talking about a day of retribution when he would massacre as many women as he could find. And when the police found him, dead from an apparently self-inflicted wound, he had three semi-automatic handguns and 400 rounds of ammunition.

It could have been a lot of “blonde girls,” dead.

Male violence has been a topic for discussion on social media for some time. Last year on Twitter political analyst and anti-rape activist Zerlina Maxwell led a discussion on #streetharassment. As Maxwell explained to CNN after the Rodger killings, she started #rapecultureiswhen in response to a op-ed calling for an end to “rape culture hysteria.” The hashtag highlighted examples of victim blaming and was tweeted more than 67,000 times.


I led one on the global perils of  #sharedgirlhood. Nigerian activist Oby Ezekwesili and Los Angeles filmmaker Ramaa Mosley began the momentous  #BringBackOurGirls. But it’s the #YesAllWomen hashtag that has become a rallying cry to rival #BringBackOurGirls.  It’s the hashtag that has brought women who never speak out together with women who are well-known feminist voices to talk about male violence and violence against women and what it means to grow up under the pall of what might happen to you if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time in the wrong outfit after the wrong number of drinks and then it is all your fault. As woman after woman posted, “No one ever asked a man what they were wearing when they got attacked.”

#YesAllWomen was a counterpoint not just to the horror’s of Elliot Rodger’s palpable hatred of women, but it was a firm rebuke to the men who constantly chime in on any conversation about anything women have to say about male violence with, “not all men.”

Not all men rape or kill if they can’t get the woman they want but enough do — one in five women is a victim of rape, one in four a survivor of child sexual abuse — to make it resonant. Regardless of #NotAllMen’s long-standing status as a hashtag of female resignation, #YesAllWomen was about empowering our voices. I posted over 150 tweets with it myself. Other activists like Soraya Chemaly, Maxwell and so many others began an almost obsessive tweeting, determined to state all that had been left unsaid by women their whole lives about their second-class status as females and the impact it had on their lives as well as the vulnerabilities they could never shake off because they were societal, not personal.

Chemaly tweeted early on: “#notallmen practice violence against women but #YesAllWomen live with the threat of male violence. Every. Single. Day. All over the world.”

I wrote, “Do people realize that men say the things #ElliotRodger said to/about women every day on Twitter? Because it happens. And to #YesAllWomen.”

Others wanted the media reminded of Rodger’s hatred of women and how specific it was. Australian feminist Caitlin Roper wrote, “Rodger did not choose a sorority house any more randomly than Brussels shooter chose a Jewish museum.”

Some also took the discussion broader — women were tweeting about other feminist issues related to both women’s second-class status and male violence. Chemaly wrote, “Because #YesAllWomen are pitted against each other for access to safety, resources & power by patriarchal and colonial race & caste systems.” I tweeted about violence against lesbians, sending out a series of tweets naming lesbian victims of male violence, like Sakia Gunn, whose 27th birthday would have been May 26th if she hadn’t been murdered at 15 by a man who came on to her and her girlfriend. When she told him to leave them alone, because she was a lesbian, he stabbed her.

The #YesAllWomen tweets — those million plus tweets — were beginning to have the same impact as #BringBackOurGirls. The response, the volume, has been stunning. It’s like a giant consciousness-raising group, tweeting its way to critical analysis and feminist self-awareness.

Second Wave feminist Germaine Greer once said women would be stunned to discover how much men hate them. It didn’t take long to find out. No good hashtag goes unhacked and soon men were posting on and about #YesAllWomen. #YesAllPeople  sprang up, its intent to discuss men. Men were also posting unsavory tweets on #YesAllWomen itself, and also trolling women posting there, sending ugly missives about how Elliot Rodger had the right idea and messages about rape and violence. Other men were merely condescending. Journalist David Frum peevishly wrote that women should go live elsewhere if they wanted to see what real misogyny was and linked to a BBC article on acid burnings.

Other men were tweeting that women were to blame for Elliot Rodger — that if women had just had sex with him, none of this would have happened. In response to dozens of such tweets I wrote, “Men keep tweeting #ElliotRodger snapped because of the pressure on him. What if every raped woman “snapped”? Carnage. #YesAllWomen.”

The very things women had been tweeting about — not being able to talk about male harassment and violence without adding #NotAllMen — were now coming true. As I tweeted Wednesday morning, “Four days of a hashtag & men are hysterical because women keep talking about their gender. Imagine that every day since birth #YesAllWomen.”

Yet despite that, women continued to keep the momentum up. There have certainly been repetitions, but what is so astonishing is you can read 100 or 200 tweets and find no replications.

The hashtag “allows people the opportunity to tell their stories, but it also allows other people to really listen,” Emily May, co-founder and executive director of the anti-street-harassment organization Hollaback! said in an interview with Yahoo Shine. “We’ve seen tons of stories, but what we’ve also seen are people saying, ‘I didn’t know that happened, and I get it now.’ That’s the real power.”

And it is. Zerlina Maxwell told CNN, “While most feminist-driven Twitter campaigns preach to the choir, #YesAllWomen has succeeded in drawing the mainstream–including men–into the conversation.” Maxwell also said, “It’s not somebody on high saying this is a problem in society and everyone should fix it. It’s people talking about real experiences, and each experience is validated by the next.”

I spent three hours live-tweeting about #YesAllWomen and Elliot Rodger on May 27 from the UK site Room of Our Own. Nearly every respondent had a story of her own about violence and discrimination. All were looking for validation and connection around those experiences. This wasn’t a meeting of the victimized, as Fox News’s Megyn Kelly called the #YesAllWomen movement. This was a meeting of survivors demanding change, demanding action.

Attempts to silence women or get them to silence themselves with regard to #YesAllWomen will likely continue, but hopefully #YesAllWomen will remain a potent and resonant meme.

Hacktivist Suey Park, who created the #NotYourAsianSideKick hashtag wrote on May 27,  ”#YesAllWomen has been co-opted by white feminists and male feminists, while harming WOC creators. Fall back.”

Many women responded that this was an arrogant appropriation itself, particularly as two of the loudest and strongest voices for #YesAllWomen had been Maxwell, who is African American and Chemaly, one of the best-known feminist writers of the Third Wave. In addition, the hashtag seemed to have sprung up spontaneously from several sources. And it reads #YesAllWomen, notsome women.

#YesAllWomen may have exposed some of the long-standing rifts within feminism, like between white women and women of color, liberal and radical feminists, straight and lesbian women. But it has also re-defined the strengths: Women’s shared experience is intense and shockingly archetypal, and we are far more similar than we are dissimilar. So #YesAllWomen. Yes.


This article originally appeared in SheWired May 28, 2014.






The Normal Heart: An AIDS Memory

Jun 5th, 2014
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If you remember the AIDS pandemic of the 1980s and 1990s, you are middle-aged.

You are also still alive when many of your peers from that time are long dead.

I remember the pandemic as if it were yesterday because I lived and breathed it as both journalist and activist for a decade. As a fledgling reporter, I was covering a story that no editor thought would go anywhere–give it to the new girl. But that new disease called AIDS became the biggest story of that decade. It became a story that changed the world. When The Normal Heart premieres on HBO May 25, it will tell that story, the story of AIDS in the 1980s. It will be an entirely new story to some. But for others of us it will be a trip back to a time that felt like the end of the world every day. Who was sick, now? Who was dying, now? Larry Kramer’s play debuted in New York on April 21, 1985 at The Public Theater Off-Broadway. The Normal Heart is his story.

Kramer was two months shy of his 50th birthday and men were dying all around him. Some were his age, some were older, but many–many–were younger, of my generation, not Kramer’s, who is my parents’ age.

And that was terrifying.

It’s difficult to articulate the fear of those years, the rage of those years. The Normal Heart grabs that passion and shakes it in the viewer’s face. This is what is happening to us! In an era of complacency when “activism” has been largely confined to Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr, it’s difficult to explain the sense memory of the in-your-face activism Kramer inspired with his writing and his founding of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) in 1987. I was working for a magazine, now defunct, called OutWeek. AIDS was a main focus. Tearing the closeted who were letting our people die due to their complacency from those closets was one of our goals. We coined the term “outing” and we did it every week.

The sense of urgency was oppressive. We were lying down in the streets of New York, Philadelphia and Boston in planned protests called die-ins. We were being arrested in front of the White House (there were no barriers up in those years). We were chanting “say it” first to President Ronald Reagan, then to President George H. W. Bush because they refused to speak about AIDS, refused to address the epidemic.

We were frantic. We were in a constant state of rage and fear. Who would be next?

I wrote about very little else for years. I was flying here and there to cover this new drug announcement or cover that new outbreak for various newspapers and magazines. I sat with several U.S. Surgeons General and dozens of doctors and scientists from New York to San Francisco. I held AIDS babies at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx. I sat with men gaunt as concentration camp victims, the big red-wine-colored lesions of Kaposi’s sarcoma marring their once-handsome faces. I wandered through a strange little place called Belle Glade, Florida where an outbreak among an enclave of poor, straight, black people was leading some to think mosquitoes might be carriers. I flew to Research Triangle Park, NC to cover the announcement of a new drug called AZT.

I outed the infamous Roy Cohn, who had been a major player in Sen. Joe McCarthy’s HUAC hearings and who was a member of the prosecutorial team that sent the Rosenbergs to the gas chamber, Cohn had always denied his homosexuality even as he prosecuted other gays. But when I discovered Cohn was being treated by Dr. Sam Broder, an AIDS specialist I had interviewed repeatedly, I knew Cohn had AIDS. He asserted he had liver cancer and the he was not then nor ever had been a “homosexual.” But Cohn died of complications of AIDS at 59 in 1986, finally revealed to be a gay man who had hounded and terrorized other gay men for decades.

I met Cleve Jones and saw the beginnings of what would be the Names Project AIDS quilt. And I met countless gay men my own age who would be dead in a year or less. I Peeled countless gowns and masks off and put them in the biohazard containers outside hospital rooms marked “isolation.”

Loss frames one’s perspective. Among all the gay men whose names I no longer recall, there are two–Assotto Saint and Darrell Yates-Rist–two of my close friends from that time whose faces flash before me as I contemplate what it means to be seeing The Normal Heart on TV on Memorial Day weekend. Assotto, a transplanted Haitian poet and activist, was 36. Darrell, a writer and co-founder of GLAAD, was 45. They’ve both been dead 20 years now.

For us–those of us who were trying to do whatever we could to staunch the hemorrhage of dying–the debut of The Normal Heart marks our Memorial Day. This film of Kramer’s play is a memorial to all those men and women who fought, who lay down in the filthy streets, who carried cardboard and papiér maché coffins, who held hands with the dying, who held up their pictures, who screamed their names, who would not be silenced.

There’s not much mention of Larry Kramer in the hype surrounding the HBO production. Ryan Murphy, producer and director of the film, is well known to TV audiences as the premiere gay showrunner on network and cable. Nip/Tuck, Glee, The New Normal and American Horror Story have garnered awards and audiences. They have brought tears to more than a few eyes as they–especially Glee–normalized gay on TV.

Bringing The Normal Heart to TV was an act of love for Murphy. But writing The Normal Heart was an act of defiance for Kramer. Murphy was 19 at Indiana University in Bloomington when The Normal Heart opened. How much could he know about AIDS, then and there, in the heartland?

But Kramer–Kramer knew all about AIDS. He was living in the AIDS epicenter.

In 1985, what Kramer did–writing about AIDS for the stage–was huge. Kramer was a screenwriter for a major studio. He’d been nominated for an Oscar for one of the best films of the 1960s, Ken Russell’s Women in Love. He was middle-aged. He was known. So when Kramer co-founded the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), it was big. When The Normal Heart opened at The Public Theater, it was bigger and Mayor Koch and the then-venerable New York Times felt compelled to defend themselves against being called-out by Kramer in the play.  Kramer had accused them of standing idly by while gay men were dying.

You see all of this in The Normal Heart. You see the lived experience of that era, that time, those days before HIV in the U.S. (because it’s still a raging epidemic in Africa and Asia) was as manageable as diabetes or any other life-threatening but controllable disease.

You see, close up, in the tortured faces of actors Mark Ruffalo and Matt Bomer, Taylor Kitsch and Jim Parsons the impact of that time when there seemed to be no hope, only despair and inchoate rage.

The Normal Heart takes us into the days of crisis, the days of rage. Ruffalo plays Ned Weeks, Kramer’s stand-in, as he strives to get GMHC running and get someone, anyone, to listen to him about what is happening to gay men.

Some may find The Normal Heart over-the-top in these days when Macklemore’s hit song “Same Love”stands in for activism. But with a cast of stellar actors giving stellar performances (Julia Roberts gives hers from a wheelchair as the polio-stricken Dr. Emma Brookner who can relate to being felled young by disease better than most), the earnestness and messiness of an emergency, of life-and-death urgency ring palpably true.  Now as then, The Normal Heart is about what we do, how we act to save ourselves when no one else will step forward. Watching Ned buttonhole closeted men to try and get them to answer to someone absolutely evokes that time and what we were doing–literally grabbing people and yelling, “Help!”

But there’s more to the story — it’s not just about death and dying and the activists who tried to stop it. It’s also about love and honor, about the depth and breadth of friendships among men who had built their own gay families. It’s about how the hard-won battle for sexual freedom suddenly became a battle to the death.

The Normal Heart is a trip back to a time that feels both a generation ago and close enough to touch. It’s a bloody piece of our collective queer history that’s been torn roughly from that time. And it’s a memorial to the fallen–as Jim Parsons’ character Tommy eulogizes in the film. Those of us who lived through it will never forget. Those of you who did not must carry on the history. A generation of young gay men was lost in that one decade. The Normal Heart is for them–our gay dead–as told by someone who was there every minute, and for whom those men were never just faceless numbers in an epidemic.

This article first appeared in SheWired on May 23, 2014


My Big Long-Awaited Lesbian Wedding

Jun 5th, 2014
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We were only 13 when we first met, taking the bus to the Philadelphia High School for Girls. It was the beginning of our long journey to now.

Yesterday, when the ban on same-sex marriage was ruled unconstitutional in Pennsylvania, I proposed. She said yes.

We’re getting married in October on what will be our 15th anniversary together. Naturally, I took to Twitter to announce my happy news. Twelve hours later the favorites and retweets were still going strong.

It feels so good to be equal.

I’ve cried a lot since the news broke about the marriage ban being overturned. The emotions were so strong, so raw–I didn’t expect them. We aren’t teenagers anymore. We’re middle-aged professionals who were girlfriends in high school, then again in college and then went our separate ways with other people. We were reunited by a mutual friend from high school after we’d both left long-term relationships. It’s a romantic story — high school sweethearts who meet again, fall in love again and marry.

All except the marrying part.

We feel married. We act married. Fifteen years is a long time to be together, especially as we’re both complicated people with intense careers and strong opinions. So, we’re already married, right? No need for that piece of paper, right?


I didn’t realize how not-married we were until yesterday when getting married became real and we were suddenly officially, legally engaged.

The marriage ruling happened to coincide with the Pennsylvania mid-term primary. I always enjoy going to vote and talking to neighbors and politicos like myself.  I’m a columnist for one of the local weeklies, my photo next to my byline, so people know who I am. But this time, when people came up to me to discuss recent columns or the election, I told them, “I’m getting married.”

I told everyone.

I don’t live in a gayborhood. I live in a black, working-poor neighborhood in Philadelphia populated by the people everyone says hates queers. And some do, no question. But at the polling place–an elementary school a few blocks from my house–the people in the vast gymnasium, all but two African-American, congratulated me, asked me when, told me “it’s about time.”

It was, frankly, the experience of a lifetime.

My lifetime.

I’ve been writing about same-sex marriage — the promise of it, the fight for it — for over 20 years. My first article about it was published in Curve magazine back in 1993. “Tying the Knot or the Hangman’s Noose?” The essay was reprinted in my book Too Queer: Essays from a Radical Life.

I re-read it recently when I was writing about how Pennsylvania lesbians and gay men were in limbo because of the marriage ban here and the literal costs to us in not having the marriage option.

In the essay I described a wedding my then-partner and I had attended. I still remember it as if it were yesterday. It remains one of the most moving events I have witnessed. Our friends, a straight couple, were blissfully happy. And as I sat in that church pew watching, my partner and I the only two non-straights in the place, I was never so keenly aware of being the Other.I knew I was never going to be that person saying “I do” in front of my priest, in my church.

My essay reflects some of the bitterness I felt and also my attitude at the time about marriage equality. Why, I queried, were lesbians and gay men agitating for marriage and to serve openly in the military (Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell had just become law)? Why did we even want to be part of two of the most historically repressive institutions–marriage and the military?

I have a clear answer now to my rhetorical question of 20 years ago: because we want to be welcomed into society, because we want to share our joy with everyone else, because we want to have the conversations everyone else has–the serious commitment conversations and the frivolous what-kind-of-cake, what-sort-of-flowers conversations. I have been reporting on this issue throughout the decade since Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2004. My partner and I had talked about going to Boston to get married then. Or to Toronto. But it seemed far and still not valid where we were.

Yet as state after state adopted marriage equality it seemed as if it would never happen in Pennsylvania. Following the historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling on DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) last June, as I reported for The Advocate, Bruce Hanes, Register of Wills for Montgomery County in Pennsylvania, began issuing marriage licenses to lesbians and gay men.

As I reported for The Advocate last September, Hanes’ reasoning was simple: The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage, so he wasn’t going to prevent lesbians and gay men from getting married. The Pennsylvania ban was, Hanes, a lawyer, said, unconstitutional.

When Hanes was handing out licenses, my partner and I talked about getting one. His office was a half hour away. But we knew it wouldn’t be legal. What would be the point?  In the time since the state got an injunction against Hanes to stop him and concomitantly the state Attorney General Kathleen Kane said she would no longer uphold the ban, much to the consternation of at least half of all Pennsylvanians, nearly a dozen states have gotten marriage equality–including every state in the Northeast from Maine to Virginia. Except Pennsylvania.

We could have gone across the river to New Jersey. Or driven a half hour to Delaware. Or taken a day trip to New York. Or taken my sister, who lives in Maine, up on her offer of a Maine wedding. Or gone West and gotten married in Seattle where my nephew and a close friend live.

But it had to be here. In our own state, in our own city, in the place we grew up together, in the place we found each other again, in the place where the Declaration of Independence was signed and the Constitution ratified and the Bill of Rights adopted. It had to be here.

In overturning the law that stipulated marriage in Pennsylvania could only be between one man and one woman, Judge John E. Jones III of Federal District Court in the state capital, Harrisburg, wrote, “We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history.”

The lawsuit in Pennsylvania against the ban was brought by the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) on behalf of 11 couples, and the widow and two teenage children of one couple (her partner died before the ruling).

Unlike in other states, Judge Jones gave no sop to those against marriage equality. Instead he wrote, “By virtue of this ruling, same-sex couples who seek to marry in Pennsylvania may do so, and already married same-sex couples will be recognized as such in the Commonwealth.”

Several hours later they were lining up at Philadelphia’s City Hall, the Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus had formed in an impromptu concert, and the outer courtyard was thronged with several hundred lesbians, gay men and their supporters, chanting, waving placards about love and flying rainbow flags.

It was, in a word, awesome.

I didn’t think we’d get here. I dared not think we’d get here. But when it became real to me that I was, indeed, engaged to be married, I realized I was feeling something I had never felt before.

One of the things I love about social media (because there are many I dislike) is its immediacy. I tweeted about the ruling. I tweeted that I asked, she said yes and we were getting married in October.

Last month my nephew, who I adore, finally asked his long-time girlfriend to marry him. They are a perfect couple and I know they will be incredibly happy together.

The day they broke the news, he told me they were “blissed out.” She sent me a photo montage of the two of them. They were indeed “blissed out.” Photos of them smiling at each other, showing off her lovely ring, all of it seemed so foreign to me.

Was I envious? I didn’t think so. I think I was just happy for them and glad to be sharing their joy.

But I realized yesterday that this is one of the things lesbians and gay men are missing out on in being deprived of marriage and its accouterments and antecedents: We never get to experience the blissed out.

And I have to say–it’s not like anything else. For two hours yesterday I was getting wave after wave of congratulations via email and social media and it was fabulous. “When’s the date?” “Where will it be?” “What are you wearing?” “What is she wearing?” “Can I help with your dress?”

The questions came, fast and furious and as the wave of congratulatory support washed over me, as I read the tweets back to my partner later, I felt what every straight friend whose weddings I have attended over the years has felt: joy, excitement, anticipation. It isn’t like anything else. And I have waited for it literally all my life. My former partner and I didn’t have the option of marriage–it wasn’t legal anywhere in the 11 years we were together. And because it wasn’t legal we have messy leftover problems of the house we owned together that will never be resolved.

I know there is more to marriage than this blissed out feeling I am still experiencing. One friend said, “Don’t forget the pre-nup” while another joked that marriage was where people unpacked all their baggage.

But friends who I know are through-and-through cynics were suddenly softer and more conciliatory. And everyone wanted us to be happy.

Almost everyone.

Because the one thing that’s still different for us is that people still fear same-sex marriage, are still angered by it. Some local conservatives I know got into an argument with me about the “morality” of marriage equality. “Why can’t you just have civil unions?” one guy demanded.

“Because we want full equality,” I responded.

“It will never be like real marriage, no matter what you call it,” another said. Except it is. It is like real marriage because it is real marriage. When we get married now, it’s real. It’s not a commitment ceremony, although it’s a commitment. It’s not a civil union, although it has all the legal elements of one.

It’s marriage. It’s forsaking all others till death do us part.

And it’s I do. It’s those words I have wanted to say for so many years, but had been banned from saying.

I do.

So don’t let anyone tell you there’s no difference between living together and getting married, between domestic partnerships, civil unions and marriage.

There is a difference. A vital, declarative difference. And that difference is equality.


This article originally appeared in SheWired on May 21, 2014