Sochi 2014

We are one week into the 2014 Olympic Games. I haven’t been paying very much attention, but I will say that the Russian police choir singing Pharrell Williams’ Get Lucky was hands down one of the most awkward things I’ve ever seen or heard in my life. 17- year old figure skater Michael Martinez, the first Filipino to make it to the Winter Games in 22 years, is a real Cinderella story. Martinez, along with Julia Marino, also a lone athlete representing her country and the first Paraguayan athlete to ever compete in the winter Games, embody the determination and skill that the Games are meant to celebrate.

Russia came under fire in mid-2013 for passing a law banning “propaganda of homosexualism.” The law is draconian, and people and organizations have faced harsh fines and imprisonment for promoting acceptance of LGBT people. When LGBT people are subjected to violent physical assault, laws should be implemented to protect them, rather than make them even more vulnerable.

It’s not only when it comes to this issue that Russia’s domestic policy is problematic. The country’s human rights record is abysmal. President Vladimir Putin has destroyed any semblance of independent media. Human rights activists such as journalists and lawyers are arbitrarily detained, violently assaulted, and murdered. Thousands of medical patients die from lack of access to palliative care. Racism and anti-Semitism in Russia are also rampant with Central Asians, Africans and people of African descent (yes, there are black people in Russia!), and Jews all facing discrimination, although the election of a black councilman in 2010 is promising.

For an event that is meant to celebrate unity in athleticism, having Irina Rodnina light the Olympic torch was a questionable move. Last year, Rodnina posted a picture of Barack Obama manipulated to show a white hand holding a banana in front of him, imagery that is steeped with historical, racist baggage. Instead of offering an apology, she fell back on the “freedom of speech” defense to justify her bigotry.

Still, the solidarity shown by athletes, from an on-podium kiss after winning an event, to painting nails in rainbow colors, show that despite the problems that exist, there are plenty who look forward to Russia evolving into a nation with full respect for human rights.


How to be/not to be an ally

I am no expert on trans rights, but over the past several years, trans activism- blogs, videos, magazine articles- has taught me a lot about my privilege as a cis-woman, and how to be a good ally to those who are not.

Among those great teachers are Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, and TransGriot.

A few weeks ago, Cox and Carmen Carrera were on Katie Couric’s talk show, Katie. As Sunnivie Brydum wrote on Advocate, they were subjected to Couric’s “spurious line of questioning wherein the host seemed fixated on the trans women’s genitalia, and the details of what gender-confirming surgeries the women may have undergone.”

Both women explained why it was harmful to trans people to constantly fixate on their “private parts”, rather than on real issues that affect the community. Cox said:

There’s a preoccupation with that and I think that the preoccupation with transition and surgery objectifies trans people and then we don’t get to really deal with the real, lived experiences. The reality of trans people’s lives is so often we are targets of violence. We experience discrimination disproportionately to the rest of the community. Our unemployment rate is twice the national average. If you’re a trans person of color, it’s four times the average. The homicide rate in the LGBT community is highest amongst trans women. And when we focus on transition, we don’t actually get to talk about those things.

Couric reacted exactly how an ally should- she left the moment in when she aired in what she called a “teachable” moment, and thanked her guests for the correction, saying “You’re so well-spoken about it. That’s very well put. Laverne and Carmen, thank you both so much for being here.”

By contrast, Piers Morgan demonstrated exactly how not to be an ally when Janet Mock was a guest on his show, Piers Morgan Live. After her appearance, Mock sent out three tweets expressing disapproval with the way the show said that “she was born a boy” and that she “used to be a man.” Morgan then invited her to return to the show to explain.

Morgan made the second interview entirely about himself, how he had done nothing but support the LGBT community, how he had told Mock that she looked like Beyonce, how Marie Claire had run an article about Mock called I Was Born a Boy and therefore Mock had no right to object to being misgendered by his show. Morgan is now calling himself a victim of “cisphobia,” something that’s so absurd as to be laughable. Trans people do not have power over cis people, and the idea that an underprivileged community can pose any kind of a threat to a member of the most privileged one (white, straight, cis, upper-class, male) illustrates exactly how much Morgan has no desire to learn.

Something that Couric, Morgan, and many cis people (including me!) have in common is that we all have to shut up and listen if we really want to understand issues that affect trans men, trans women, trans POC.


A crazy way to live

I don’t really have anything new or constructive to say on the subject of violence against men of color, except that I am getting weary of hearing about young boys being violently assaulted because of their race. February 5th would have been Trayvon Martin’s 19th birthday, and it’s almost exactly two years of the anniversary of his death. Boys and men of color are so often victims of both extrajudicial violence for existing the way they were born.

Following Martin’s murder, a chain e-mail claiming that the media was not accurately representing his appearance, and that he was in fact a tall, muscular, tattooed black man made the internet rounds. Not only was it a photograph of rapper The Game and not Martin, those perpetuating this rumor seemed unable to comprehend that the mere fact of being black, tattooed, tall, and muscular and male does not make you any less of a human, and certainly does not justify someone murdering you in cold blood. Continue reading

South Africa: 2014

2014 is the 20th anniversary of South Africa’s independence, and is also an election year. Although South African politicians often describe the country as a “rainbow nation,” is the term really more than rhetoric used in an attempt to pacify those who speak about persisting inequalities and rampant corruption?

Today’s African National Congress (ANC) is a far cry from the radical, revolutionary group that fought for independence. 20 years after the ANC rose to power, legislative changes have not necessarily translated into racial  or class equality for South Africa. Black South Africans suffer from increasing rates of unemployment, and maternal mortality rates have quadrupled under ANC leadership.

Incumbent President Jacob Zuma has at best, a questionable record as head of state; his most recent abuse of power blowing R208 million (USD18.5 million) of public funds to pimp out his private residence in Nkandla. While City Press calls Nkandla “the village at the centre of South Africa’s election,” the votes of President Zuma’s disenfranchised neighbors will most likely not sway the election, despite Julius Malema’s wishful thinking that the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) will win this year’s election; and the ANC’s declining support.

Despite the corruption and inequality that has continued to characterize South Africa under ANC leadership, it’s unrealistic to think that an opposition can group can win this year’s election, especially after the implosion of the coalition formed between the Democratic Alliance and Agang SA; under which Mamphela Ramphele would’ve run as the presidential candidate.

But who knows? Maybe all the political analysts are wrong, and an opposition group will win and wave a magic wand and erase all of South Africa’s systemic problems. One can dream, anyway.