You Speak for Houston

Back when the Houston It’s Worth It website launched in 2004, it solicited reasons why people consider the city to, in fact, be worth it. This was my submission, #129. An excerpt of my submission was published in the first HIWI book, but I wanted to share it in its entirety since now seems to be a cultural moment for love letters to Houston. 

Houston is worth it because if you are here, you want to be here. The heat, the mosquitoes, the traffic—they might bug you, but you have more important things to do than whine about the weather.

You are in Houston because you have great things to accomplish. You want to be part of one of the most philanthropic communities in the world. You want to be in a town whose doctShalimar headors are known, respected, and sought out by the entire world. You want art in the most unexpected places, and more of it in the expected ones. You want to be in a place where maybe, just maybe, you can celebrate the New Year in shorts and flip flops with a margarita in your hand while sitting under a palapa next to the pool. You crave contact with an incredibly diverse population. You thrive on challenges, and see them as opportunities to grow and improve.

It is easy to go to a city with a beautiful bay and soaring bridge. You never have to explain your goals if you head for the big apple. Your soul is drawn to some new-age-old-hippie-town.

In those places, you let the city speak for you.

Houston doesn’t speak for you – you speak for it.

You make it better, stronger, healthier, wealthier, more beautiful, and more dynamic. Houston is worth it because your dreams, goals, and accomplishments are worth it. Houston is worth it because it will do everything it can to make those dreams and goals possible, and it will celebrate you for your accomplishments, no matter who you are and where you came from.

Houston is worth it because it knows YOU are worth it.

 

Posted in Houston, Texas | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Licenses for Sidewalk Counselors

McCullen v. Coakley got me thinking.

Justice Scalia is intent on calling the people who stand outside offering their opinions to strangers entering clinics counselors, not protesters. The plaintiff in the case, Eleanor McCullen, claims she’s just a mother and grandmother who wants to give people information about abortion before they enter clinics.

If we’re going to call them counselors, then let’s regulate them the way we do all mental health professionals. Moms and grandmoms can offer advice at home and on the phone all they want, but if they hold themselves out in public as counselors, they should be required to have the same credentials as someone who offers counseling in the more traditional setting of an office.

Not to get too technical, but the credentials will probably need to be a certain size, and framed, and printed in at least two languages in some parts of the country. These sidewalk counselors will likely also need to post whatever patient rights and complaint/hotline information other counseling professionals so.

In fact, we already require by law that certain information offered during the procedure be presented by a doctor, not a nurse or counselor or anyone else, so clearly the law already envisions requiring that people delivering information about abortion have certain specific licenses and credentials.

If they are going to include medical information in their advice, shouldn’t they be required to have medical credentials, too, just like the doctors performing the procedures?

Texas, for example, requires clinics hand out a pamphlet called A Woman’s Right to Know. Doctors are required by state law to give specific information to clients. We don’t talk about the doctor’s free speech rights in this context. Shouldn’t we require any counselor, including sidewalk counselors, to give this state-mandated information as well? And shouldn’t the be subject to the same penalties if they don’t provide the mandated information?

Maybe we can even generate a little revenue here. If the sidewalk is their work space, are we OK allowing them to use it for free?

And what about malpractice insurance? What if they offer false or misleading information? Can we file a complaint with whatever state board licenses them?

There are all sorts of ways we should be regulating the people outside abortion clinics if what they are offering is medical or mental health advice. After all, we regulate the speech that gets provided inside the clinics. Let’s get some consistency here.

Posted in pro-choice activism | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

The Bathroom Menace & Other Lies About Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance

"Seattle Public Library (OMA Architects)" by Keith Daly via Flickr

“Seattle Public Library (OMA Architects)” by Keith Daly via Flickr

Steven Hotze, M.D., recently published these outright lies about the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance:

Mayor Parker’s ordinance would include minority status for the so called “transgendered,” allowing a biological male to legally enter women’s public bathrooms, locker rooms and shower areas and expose himself to women and girls or just ogle them like a peeping Tom. All he has to claim is that he “thinks of himself as a woman.”

I want to protect my wife, daughters and granddaughters from being exposed to the dangers of male sexual predators masquerading as women in women’s public bathrooms, locker rooms and shower facilities. Don’t you want the same for your wife, daughters and granddaughters? Shame on Mayor Parker and city council for passing an ordinance that would put women and children at risk from sexual predators. That is why it is referred to as the Sexual Predators Protection Ordinance.

Shame on Steven Hotze for deliberately and willfully lying about the ordinance.

Let me break this down for you.

  • The ordinance does allow transgender people to enter public bathrooms.
  • Someone who is biologically male, but who lives life presenting herself as a woman, is considered to be a transgender woman, or transwoman. This person would use the same bathroom as a cisgender woman, or ciswoman, which is a woman who was both born biologically a woman and who presents herself to the world as a woman.
  • Transgender people have to use the bathroom for the very same reasons cisgender people do, and they have to do so when out in public for the exact same reasons, too.
  • A transman or transwoman using a bathroom is NOT committing a crime by being in a bathroom and utilizing the plumbing fixtures therein.
  • A transwoman or transman is NOT committing a crime by being a transgender person.
  • A person who enters a bathroom to commit a crime IS a criminal.
  • A person’s gender identity is irrelevant to any criminal intent or action. In other words, you are a criminal for committing a crime regardless of your gender.
  • A man who puts on a dress in order to commit a crime is not transgender. Such a person is a criminal using a disguise that he hopes will allow him to evade detection and apprehension.
  • “Thinking of himself as a woman” is not now, nor has it ever been, nor will it ever be, an affirmative defense to charges that a crime has been committed. The ordinance does not create such an affirmative defense, and never tried to do so.

Calling this equal rights ordinance a “sexual predator protection ordinance” is a deliberate attempt to scare and mislead people. This ordinance does not exempt any person or class of people from criminal penalties for committing criminal acts.

Using the bathroom is not a crime. It is not a crime if you are cisgender, and not a crime if you are transgender.

Being transgender is not a crime. Period. Full stop. Being transgender does not make you any more or less likely to commit a crime than being cisgender. And, being transgender does not make you a criminal any more than being a Libra or being tall or being from Arkansas or Guatemala does. Is there any other way I can say this or need to say this?

Spying on someone who is using the bathroom, molesting someone while they are in a bathroom, stealing a purse from someone in the bathroom, raping someone who is in a bathroom—these things are all crimes, and they are crimes regardless of the gender identity of the person committing them.

Both before and after the passage of this ordinance, committing rape, molestation, sexual assault, theft, or any other criminal action in a bathroom was a crime, is a crime, and continues to be a crime. There is no special protection or exemption from the law if you commit the crime while dressed in clothing that does not match your biological gender assignment.

A criminal commits a crime by carrying out certain specific actions clearly defined in our local, state, and federal statutes. The HERO does not change that.

Please share this with people you know who are worried about using public bathrooms now that we have the HERO.

If they were worried about a bathroom menace, and this doesn’t allay their fears, then perhaps try using shorter words and speaking louder. Honestly, though, I don’t know how it could be any more clear.

If they still oppose HERO, even after admitting that going to the bathroom while transgender is not a crime, then we have to consider another possibility.

They simply have a bias against transgender people. That happens, after all, and people who have such a bias might as well be honest about it. No need to pretend to be stupid to avoid being called bigoted.

People are allowed to have that bias. The HERO ordinance does not outlaw believing bad things about transgender people, or people whose skin is a different color, or those who practice a different religion than yours. Notably, the HERO does not infringe upon your right to claim that discrimination is a central tenet of your religious faith. It simply says that in certain matters of city contracting and public accommodation and housing, there are penalties for acting upon those biases when they are applied unequally.

It is also totally legal for me to say you are stupid, small-minded, and pathetic if you cling to this ridiculous bathroom menace argument. It isn’t nice, but it is legal. The HERO ordinance has no bearing on my assessment of your relative level of intelligence, tolerance, or niceness, or yours of mine.  To put it another way—being stupid or mean does not make you part of a special class protected by the HERO.

If you are confused about gender, sex, and identity, I recommend this phenomenal resource, The Gender Book.

It can be helpful, too, to remember that as a default, you don’t need to know what is between a person’s legs or not between a person’s legs in order to make the decision to treat them with respect and afford them basic civil rights.

Finally, something to keep in mind:

  • Just as you have no right to demand to know what the space between the legs of a cisgender person looks like, you have no right to demand to know what the space between the legs of a transgender person looks like.
  • Are you cisgender and accustomed to looking at the space between strangers’ legs in public bathrooms? Because if you do, you’re doing it wrong, and you might just be the bathroom predator everyone is so het up about.
Posted in advice you didn't ask for, Houston, politics | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Walking, Alone, as a Woman

Friday nights, I often stay home and skip dinner or eat a little bit of cheese (generally all that is left in the fridge by then), which I know is just about more excitement than any one person can handle. Last Friday, after working on a client project until 8:45, I decided to go out. After checking in with a few people, and finding no one in the immediate area, I went by myself, which doesn’t bother me a bit.

I didn’t go far, just a little taco place only about a mile away. I ate, listened to music, caught up on social media and a few blogs, and left feeling pretty content.

My car was parked a long block and a half away down a busy road, and about a quarter of a block up a residential street that had plenty of other cars parked along it. As I walked back to it, I passed a couple of guys on the sidewalk, and then a family, before turning from the busy street onto the residential one.

All of a sudden, the shadows of the two guys I’d passed loomed up much larger and more quickly than the prior distance between us would’ve suggested they should. I was only a few steps from my car, but out of instinct, when I saw their looming shadows, I looked over my shoulder to confirm they were far enough back not to be a threat.

Since I’ve been walking while female all of my life, my purse was sensibly strapped across my chest and my key was wedged between my fingers, pointed out, positioned to poke someone in the eye or trachea.

If you didn’t already know, plenty of women are trained to walk that way when they are out in the big, bad world—ready to attack the attacker. I do it automatically, the same way I put on a seat belt. The trend in keyless car entry has me wondering what women with newer cars use.

The guys weren’t so close that I thought I had to worry, but they were closer than before, and moving faster than the easy saunter they’d been doing around the corner. As I was sliding into the car and locking the door, one of them took a few running steps toward me and said to his friend:

Quick! She’s about to get in her car!

By the time I looked up, the one who’d come toward me had already crossed back to the opposite sidewalk.

I started the car and sat for a second. It happened so fast that I wasn’t yet worked up about it, or hadn’t noticed the adrenaline surge.

I thought about tailing them home, tailgating them and making them feel as unsafe as I’d felt. I considered turning around and reporting them to the officer around the corner, just a block away. I visualized pulling up across the sidewalk in front of them, jumping out and snapping their photo, or just lecturing them on how they were NOT FUNNY and how I could have been carrying a gun.

I did nothing but drive home.

Not exactly straight home, because a car was behind me. I took an extra spin around my block, because there was a car behind me for the last couple of blocks of the drive.

That’s another thing you learn to do, as a woman who returns home, alone, at night. I never pull into the driveway or park out front if a car is behind me. I always make the block just in case I’m being followed, ready to drive to the closest fire station or the municipal court-house nearby, where you can always find a cop. I have a safety plan that is pretty much automatic. I’m a little ashamed to admit how many times I’ve driven around the block after not recognizing a neighbor’s car.

* * *

I woke up Saturday to news of yet another mass shooting, one that happened as I was trying to calm myself down from my own much less serious but still menacing encounter with men who think that they are entitled to police my presence in the public sphere, or who think rape jokes are funny.

Reading all of the news stories, watching the creepy last video of the murderer, and checking the rushing flow of #YesAllWomen tweets created a weird context in which to consider my own experience.

I wasn’t out on a date with those guys Friday. Didn’t chat with them at the restaurant, or even see them there. All I did was walk past them on the sidewalk. They, knowing nothing about me except that I was a woman walking alone, had a good laugh at my expense. Knowing nothing about me except that I was a woman, they knew it would be easy to make me feel threatened simply by walking a little faster and commenting upon the fact that I was about to be inside my car, unreachable and untouchable. I played into their game by looking back over my shoulder.

Maybe they felt I was stereotyping them when I looked back, so their joke was a manifestation of the not all men objection that crops up whenever people try to have a serious conversation about institutionalized sexism, gender bias, and gender-based violence.

Maybe they were going to mug me, or rape me, or steal my car, but were too lazy to do it quickly enough.

Probably they were tipsy young guys blowing off steam on a Friday night who weren’t thinking very deeply about the implications of an ill-advised rape joke, or about anything.

Their intent doesn’t matter. The safe bet for any woman walking alone is to treat behavior like that as a threat. Better safe than sorry. Don’t let yourself become a victim. Good thing you have on practical shoes. Strap on your purse, arm yourself with your keys, and prepare to do battle as you walk to your car after a taco salad.

Posted in feminists & feminism | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Barbie’s Got a Message for Greg Abbott & the GOP Ticket

Greg Abbott and his surrogates surprised no one when they sunk to new lows with the whole Abortion Barbie campaign.

They forgot, however, that Barbie’s got a voice and mind of her own. She’s not just a bathing beauty. She’s a working woman, and working women understand that if you do equal work, you should get equal pay.

Equal Pay Barbie

Barbie is everywhere. She’s gone into space, she’s practiced law and medicine, she’s made it big on the athletic field and in broadcast journalism. She’s made friends, bought a house or two, volunteered for service in the military … if a person can do it, Barbie’s done it.

And Barbie’s pissed, because in Texas, Greg Abbott and the Republican Party are determined to make it harder for her to live her life just because she’s a woman.

Barbie’s friends share her concern for how things are going down in Texas, so they’ve asked to share a few facts with you:

Doctor Barbie KellyBarbie Dr. Kelly, a pediatrician, would like to remind you that Texas has the highest rate of uninsured residents overall, about a quarter of its population, and has the most uninsured children of any state. That’s the truth, and that’s because of Republican policies Greg Abbott supports and will continue to support if elected. 

Teacher Barbie Nikki

Nikki is Teacher Barbie, and she’s had to deal with increasing class sizes and an ever-evolving slate of standardized tests. She’d like to remind you that when the Republican legislature proposed cutting over $10 billion (that’s with a B-billion) from the education budget, it was Senator Wendy Davis who filibustered the budget and got that number down by almost half to only $5.4 billion. That’s a verifiable fact. It was Senator Wendy Davis who saved the day for Texas teachers and students and public schools. And it has been Greg Abbott, as Attorney General, who has fought against giving public schools adequate funding to do their constitutionally mandated job.

Barbie Family Doctor

Happy Family Doctor Barbie knows that babies’ health is critical to their success for the rest of their lives. She’d be a member of the Texas Medical Association if she practiced in Texas. The TMA supported Rep. Jessica Farrar and Rep. Armando Walle when they sponsored legislation to support and promote breast feeding in TexasHB 741 provided direction on accommodations for breastfeeding by public employees, and would’ve helped thousands of working moms. HB 1706 expanded on current state provisions, ensuring women would be protected from harassment when breastfeeding in public.

It will come as no surprise to you that the Republican leadership in the didn’t prioritize or pass these bills, even though they were both voted out of committee with bipartisan support. The Republican leadership is willing to risk the health of babies to score political points.

Barbie and Ken Doctors

Barbie and Ken have been practicing side by side for many years, doctors both of them. They agree that when it comes to decisions about reproductive choices like abortion, decisions are best made by women, their families, their doctors, and their God, without interference from the government.

Dr. Barbie and Dr. Ken want the legislature to know that doctors need the freedom to talk about complex medical issues with women struggling to make difficult choices without having to worry that they also need to include state-mandated messages and misinformation.

Representative Sarah Davis, a Republican, has talked to enough doctors to understand that. She proposed legislation last session, HB 2945, that would have removed a blatant lie from the literature doctors are required, by law, to give to all women seeking abortion care in Texas. The lie in the paperwork is that abortion causes breast cancer—you would think that we could remove outright lies from state-published literature. But that bill didn’t even get out of committee, thanks to Republican leadership, so the state of Texas continues to lie to women making this very personal choice.

That’s just a few Barbies reporting in, but stay tuned. We have Nurse Barbie, Astronaut Barbie, and all kinds of Barbies ready to talk about why Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte, and the Democrats on the ticket with them are the politicians and the party who are willing to give every woman, and every Texan, a fair shot at success.

Posted in politics, Texas | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Dan Patrick Bingo

I’m eager to watch the April 15th debate on immigration in Texas between Mayor Julián Castro and Senator Dan Patrick. So eager, in fact, that I thought I’d familiarize myself with Patrick’s views on immigration.

The man stays on point. He doesn’t say much, but what he does say, he says over and over again. Reading it all made me feel like I should be keeping score of how many times he said certain things.

Naturally, my thoughts turned to drinking games. There is a tradition, after all, of associating drinking games with major political speeches.

Y’all need to trust me on this: given how often Dan Patrick repeats himself, recommending a drink every time he says X would be hazardous to the health of most of the population.

I came up with a game you can play without risking alcohol poisoning.

Allow me to present Dan Patrick Immigration Debate Bingo.

Dan Patrick Immigration Debate Bingo  click this link to download your own set of cards and play along at home! All you need are a few pennies or peanuts to use as markers for your cards, and the ability to listen to Dan Patrick without throwing things at the screen hard enough to break it.

You can go for straight bingo, which is five in a row vertically, horizontally, or diagonally. You might consider variations like the Texas T (the top row across and the middle row down), or I for Immigration (Texas T with the bottom row across as well).

Of course, you do face a challenge with the free space on these cards, because the fact is, with the way the laws are now, some people just can’t win. If you think that’s frustrating in bingo, try dealing with it in your life.

A few disclaimers:

  • Immigration is a very serious issue that Texas and our country must address in a serious, thoughtful way very soon if we want to live up to the promise and possibilities that our future holds.
  • Some people might not have certain types of government paperwork, but no human is illegal, and all people deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.
  • For information on groups doing incredible work to move our debate forward, check out United We Dream, watch the Race & Immigration section of the Texas Tribuneand monitor hashtags like #2million2many and #not1more on Twitter.
  • I took almost all of the phrases on the bingo cards from Patrick’s speeches, bills, videos, tweets, and Facebook posts. A few are thrown in that come up often in immigration debates but aren’t ones I can document him using – if I used ALL quotes from him, every card would be a winner. You can likely guess which ones aren’t his. [Hint: they will be the only spaces uncovered by the end of the debate.]
  • If you are offended by this, you don’t have to play.

The debate will start at 6 p.m. and be live-streamed on the Texas Tribune and Univision 41 (the San Antonio affiliate) websites. It will be broadcast on Univision stations in Texas later in the evening.

Download the bingo cards, print them out, tune into the live stream, and use them as you wish.

More importantly, however, learn about the complex issues facing immigrants. Reflect upon the fact that we are a nation of immigrants, and that is what has made us strong. Reflect upon the fact that some candidates want to put up the sign that says we’re full – no more room, while others want to find ways to be better neighbors and stewards of the great promise of the American dream, that if you are willing to work hard, you can make a better world for yourself here, no matter who you are or where you came from or how you arrived.

Reflect, and then get ready to vote in November. Because while bingo is a game, immigration policy should not be.

Posted in politics, Texas | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Tired of Hearing About Equal Pay? Try Not Getting Paid Equally And Let Me Know How That Feels

The current GOP talking points in Texas over equal pay—the reality of which is unequal pay, and unequal access to remedies for unequal pay—are the following:

  1. If women aren’t being paid equally, it is our own fault for being too busy and bad negotiators.
  2. The statistics are being oversimplified.
  3. The law in question that Perry vetoed, and Abbott (via surrogates) would veto, duplicated a federal law, and Texas never tries to do its own thing once the federal government has taken care of something.
  4. This one little law dealt with a narrow, technical detail and wouldn’t really have done anything to equalize pay.
  5. We’re kind of tired of hearing about this, laydeez.

First point: I’m not going to dignify the first bullet with a response. You’ve got the internet, you figure it out. If you’re truly stumped, here you go.

Second point: the statistics are being oversimplified? No, they’re being generalized, but the fact is that even when you control for factors like age and experience, and compare apples to apples as far as job function goes, in almost every profession, white women earn less than men, and women of color earn even less than the white women. Here are two articles, from Time and Forbes, which compare different studies and show that, even when the gap isn’t as wide as the oft-cited 77¢ to the $1, it persists, and raise some of other harder to quantify factors that impact the disparity.

Greg Abbott tried to use the ‘differences in education and experience’ line to explain away accusations of unequal pay in the Texas Office of the Attorney General. Well, shame on him, because the San Antonio Express News reported:

Equal pay for women is in the spotlight of the Texas governor’s race, and figures from Attorney General Greg Abbott’s state agency show most female assistant attorneys general make less on average than do men in the same job classification.

Abbott’s office said the difference is explained by the amount of time that the men have been licensed as lawyers and have served at the agency.

But drilling down into different classifications of assistant attorney general, the figures provided by Abbott’s office show there isn’t always a direct correlation between such experience and pay.

And of the top 20 highest-paid employees at the agency, just three are women, February salary figures provided to the San Antonio Express-News show. Of the 100 top positions, 37 are held by women.

The story digs deep and shows that it may expand and contract at different tiers, but the disparity is there, it is persistent, and it is pervasive.

[Side note: say you and Greg Abbott wants to stick by his surrogate's assertion that women don't get equal pay because they are too busy and bad negotiators. Does that mean all of the women he hires at the AG's office are poor time managers who can't negotiate? Aren't those critical skills for lawyers? What kind of boss would he be for hiring them, then? I think you'd be hard-pressed to get the women in his office to admit to being too busy to negotiate well. I'd sure love to know how their next round of reviews and salary negotiations will go.]

Third point: Why do we need an improved state court remedy when we have a federal court remedy?

Because we don’t really have the same opportunities to access federal courts as we do state courts.

Because in Texas, access to justice is woefully unequal, and to tell Texans they can “just” go to federal court is as insulting as telling people that the main road from the RGV to San Antonio is “peculiarly flat and not congested.

There are fewer federal courts in Texas than state courts, the distances between them are vast, and there aren’t enough judges to get the work done. Thanks to Senator Ted Cruz, vacancies on the federal bench in our state are legion, with numbers in the southern and eastern districts among some of the worst in the nation.

Be wary when Greg Abbott is the one telling you that you have adequate remedies in the courts. This is a man with a proven track record of restricting access to courts and limiting consumer and individual protections at the bar.

I will say this, furthermore, until both I and the great state of Texas are blue in the face: it is just rich that Greg Abbott, who himself benefited tremendously from a state court remedy when he was injured through no fault of his own, has made a career out of denying remedies to other Texans harmed through no fault of their own.

Equally rich? Greg Abbott and Rick Perry saying hey, Texans like to let go & let Uncle Sam when it comes to major policy issues. Medicaid expansion … women’s health program … Greg Abbott’s claim that he goes to work only to sue the federal government … yep, Abbott and Perry are just go along, get along guys, right?

Four: True, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was written to address a narrow, technical issue. Does that mean it doesn’t matter?

Democracy in action is slow, messy, and incremental, but we’re a county that likes big, bold, immediate results. Those great moment of sweeping change are rare, and often only visible in hindsight.

That doesn’t mean the incremental changes aren’t vitally important, and it insults women who’ve lost the chance to challenge discrimination in court to say so.

Five. We know we can turn the ship of government around, and we believe government exists to serve the people.

That’s why we press hard to churn through those incremental improvements.

That’s why we will keep talking about unequal pay even if some politicians and some reporters are tired of it.

We’ll keep talking about it because there is one thing far more tedious and tiresome than talking about unequal pay. It is living with unequal pay, something too many women deal with all.the.damn.time.

Posted in feminists & feminism, politics, Texas | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments