Archive for the ‘new york city’ Category


whose agenda is GENDA?

July 3, 2007

I went to the pride parade this year for the first time in awhile. Last year, the thought of the gay marriage fanfare mixed with the gross commercialism (shiny-chested altoid boys don’t make me feel so proud for some reason), coupled with humid, rainy weather were enough to make me stay away. This year, weather was beautiful and I was on a mission to be a little less judgmental.

OK, so the commercialism is still alive and well, no shock there. And apparently, so was the gay marriage nausea. A friend who marched behind Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA) noticed that a lot of the marchers’ signs read “GENDA NOW!” As I read over at transadvocate, this was because one side of ESPA’s signs read “Marriage Equality” and the other read “GENDA now.” And surprise surprise, most of the marchers walked with the marriage stuff facing front, so the only people who saw the GENDA part were those marching directly behind ESPA. Curious.

GENDA, for the uninformed, is the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, which is now being pushed in the NY state legislature in Albany. GENDA would offer the same protections to transpeople that the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (SONDA) already offers to gays, lesbians, and bisexuals – GENDA would make it illegal in New York State to discriminate on the basis of gender expression in the areas of employment, housing, public accommodations, education and credit. Human rights laws in 13 states now cover transgender people, up from 2 states in 2002. So what gives, why has GENDA still not passed in NY state?

ESPA has been accused of putting significantly more energy and resources into pushing “marriage equality” legislation than trans rights legislation, resulting in years passing and still no legislative protections for transpeople. Donna Cartwright writes in a letter to the Gay City news:

Transgender rights appear to have dropped off the radar of the LGBT community – GENDA has received scant mention recently in the gay press, which is saturated with coverage of marriage equality. And ESPA just seems to be going through the motions. The home page of its Web site has told the story – for three straight weeks, as the legislative session in Albany neared a close, the ESPA site featured no less than seven items about marriage equality, and barely a mention of GENDA, nothing about its prospects this year, and no call on legislators to make it a priority.

Finally, on Tuesday, June 19, after repeated complaints by trans activists, a button was added asking visitors to contact their legislators in support of both GENDA and marriage equality.

ESPA, which has ostensibly included transgender rights in its mission for several years now, is the LGBT community’s leading voice in Albany; its staff, lobbying expertise, and financial power give it considerable clout. With that power comes responsibility – to represent the entire LGBT community.

ESPA ED Alan Van Capelle, in his rebuttal, rattles off some lip service about how hard it is to pass bills in Albany (sorry but duh), then adds in this gem:

To be honest, the issue of gender identity and expression has been a brand new issue for many of our straight allies. They, like much of the rest of New York, have to learn about it and be able to move beyond notions that are usually widely disconnected from the reality of what it means to be transgender.

I’m sorry, but if “straight allies” in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Iowa, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington can figure out how to write transphobia out of state legislation, can’t New York “straight allies” handle it? (source)

And while we’re on the subject of pandering to hets, I love these gemmy questions on the FAQ page on the GENDA legislation on the ESPA site:

Would the law require that all public bathrooms be unisex?
Would the law force owners of small and family-owned businesses to hire transgender people?
Would the law apply to people renting out a room in their home?

To which all the answers are, of course, no. Let’s make the worried hets feel better: don’t worry, you can still police the ladies’ room! There are still channels through which you can discriminate against transpeople!

Back at transadvocate, I can’t help but nod when I read these words:

So why do we refer to these organizations as GLBT anyway? True, we worked hard over the years in the 90’s to be recognized as a part of the community, but that didn’t mean our entire fight boiled down to being nothing more than a T at the end of an acronym. It’s like saying our entire goal was to be the butt on a pig, with all the significance. Dandy! So why don’t they just advertise just GL or GLB? Sure, it’s not PC. But what the hell good is being PC if all it requires is just saying “I’m GLBT” and never giving it another thought (at least not until those screaming trannies throw their asses in the fire when they’re forgotten again)?

ESPA doesn’t have a single trans person on staff or on their board. A token trans person on a board, however, would not make a difference. I’d like to see ESPA make some kind of a visible, concrete effort to push trans legislation through Albany – and admit that perhaps transpeople deserve the same legislative protections that ESPA fought for (and won) for gays and lesbians in 2002. One might even say that such protections should take precedence over, dare I say it, “marriage equality,” especially when you consider that transgender people have extremely high rates of unemployment and poverty (some figures say 70% of transpeople in NY state, though none of the figures I found cited sources for their numbers). This discussion involves race issues that no one wants to mention – like perhaps the fact that gay marriage is primarily a white issue and the discourse surrounding it is directed at white people – and the fact that ESPA doesn’t speak to or represent the vast majority of queers in New York. If only Queers for Economic Justice had the resources and lobby power of ESPA.


Blog for Domestic Workers on Tuesday, June 5th!

May 19, 2007


Attention bloggers: Tuesday, June 5th is Blog for Domestic Workers day! The event is in conjunction with a massive Town Hall meeting and accountability session at Judson Memorial Church in New York City on Thursday, June 7th. Domestic Workers United (DWU), an organization of nannies, housecleaners, and elderly care givers, is pushing a Domestic Worker Bill of Rights through the state legislature in Albany. If passed, it would be the first legislation of its kind, guaranteeing basic rights to domestic workers in New York state. Domestic workers have been excluded from most federal and state labor laws, including the National Labor Relations Act.

Domestic workers number over 200,000 in the New York tri-state area alone. They work tirelessly for low pay and little respect, yet they enable about 400,000 middle- and upper-class folks to go to work every day. They make this city run, yet they have received little recognition for this work. It is no coincidence that most domestic workers are immigrant women of color and do traditional women’s work. The time has come for the world, or at least New York City, to recognize and appreciate what a vital role domestic workers play. (more here)

No matter where you live, please consider posting on June 5th about anything that relates to domestic workers: your experiences working as one; being raised by one; political issues from your own broad perspective; your thoughts on how this issue is a feminist issue; how it relates to the other immigrant experiences; ideas on how we might frame this issue for a mainstream audience. Anything you like, just frame it as why I support the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights. Take part in breaking the silence on this issue. Help bring it out of the closet by doing what you do best: writing your heart out. June 5th. If you can, please link to info about the Town Hall event and to the text of the Bill of Rights. And don’t forget to leave a link to your post in the comments section of this one and if you can, please use the image at the top of this page in your post. Thank you and I look forward to seeing all of your fantastic posts on June 5th!


*UPDATED 6/1* more fantastic resources:


Long Island couple accused of abusing domestic workers

May 17, 2007

Just another reason why domestic workers need a Bill of Rights. A Long Island couple has been charged with abusing, underpaying, and overworking two Indonesian domestic workers. From the NYTimes:

Police and federal immigration agents developed the case against the couple after one of the women, identified only as “Samirah” in court papers, was seen wandering near a Dunkin’ Donuts shop in Syosset on Sunday morning, wearing only pants and wrapped in a towel. Her face was bruised, and when shop employees tried to communicate with her, she made gestures of slapping herself and uttering what sounded to them like the word “master,” prosecutors said.

The police took Samirah to Nassau University Medical Center, where, with the help of an Indonesian translator, she told them that she and a second woman, identified in papers only as “Nona,” were forced by the Sabhnanis to work long hours, given little food, forced to sleep on mats on the floor, kept hidden when company came, threatened with violence, and in Samirah’s case, frequently beaten by Mrs. Sabhnani.

Nice. So now I want the mainstream feminists to pay close attention: there are over 200,000 domestic workers in the NY metro-area – I don’t even know what the numbers look like for the whole country. They are almost exclusively immigrant women of color. And they are not covered by labor laws. Talk about not valuing women’s work.

If we could pull our attention away from the pressing opt-out myth discussion for just a second and wonder who takes the place of these middle- and upper-class parents when they “opt” to go back to work? Where are the rallying cries from the feminists about double-standards, frighteningly low wages for care work (women’s work), immigrant domestic workers being blackmailed by their employers because they don’t have papers?

Plans are under way for a blog for domestic workers day on Tuesday, June 5th. Posts can range from personal stories to theory to political essays or any combination – the idea is to get the stories and issues around this important topic out of the domestic closet and into the public. These women have raised countless numbers of children who are not biologically theirs; they take care of elderly people who might otherwise have to move out of their apartments and into nursing homes; they also clean apartments so that people can work their 9-5 jobs and come home to a beautiful space. They work hard, they support their own families – and ALL of us, whether we are domestic workers ourselves, have a relative who is, were raised by one, grew up in a house with a “cleaning lady,” have elderly grandparents with live-in help, or simply understand that taking care of children and cleaning is difficult and thankless work, we are ALL connected to this issue in some way. Please consider joining me in this important project and check back into saltyfemme soon for updates – by next week, I’ll have pages for linking with the text of the Bill of Rights and information about the Town Hall event on June 7th at Judson Memorial Church here in NYC.


Domestic Workers Bill of Rights introduced into NY state senate

May 1, 2007

This exciting May Day news just in from the folks at Domestic Workers United: last week, the New York State senate introduced the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights (S. 5235). The bill sets a living wage, paid sick and vacation time, and advanced notice of termination for a workforce of nannies, house cleaners, and elderly care givers. These workers, who number over 200,000 in the tri-state area alone and are overwhelmingly immigrant women of color, are currently excluded from state and federal labor laws, leaving them with almost no worker protections. (to read the complete bill in all its legalese, click here, and then search for bill no. S05235).

From the press release:

“It’s about time we receive the protections we deserve. I personally have worked long hours, for poverty wages, been denied days off and treated as less than human. I don’t want another worker to go through that,” says Joycelyn Gill-Campbell, a nanny in Westchester. Employers have also expressed support for the legislation. Caroline Batzdorf, employer of a nanny, shared her experience: “Domestic workers make it possible for their employers to go to work and trust that our children and elders are well cared for. The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights provides much needed guidelines for us to know that these care-givers will be appropriately supported to do the important work that they do.”

No doubt that this bill has come so far because of the hard work of Domestic Workers United, their law students, and the countless allied organizations and unions who see the need for this bill, and are pushing for its support among their members and lobbying for it in Albany. If you’re in NY, your presence will be crucial at a Town Hall on June 7th, 6:30 PM at Judson Memorial Church. You’ll be hearing more from me about this event as it draws closer, but please consider joining us in affirming how important this bill is and what a vital role domestic workers play in making this city run.


name that acronym: NPR, HPV, STI, HIV/AIDS

January 9, 2007

Two quick items relating to sexual health and media:

The first is a new NPR show still in preliminary stages. NPR loves to create podcasts and I, in turn, love to listen. They are making weekly 15-minute podcasts they are calling Rough Cuts – snippets from some pilot segments of a new show. Listeners are supposed to leave their reactions and suggestions in the comments section of a blog, linked from the NPR website. They haven’t yet named the show, but the motto is “Nothing is assumed.”

The most recent podcast, which I listened to this morning, deals with HPV – what it is, how it’s contracted, and how to get tested for it. The difference between this show and another, we are told at the end, is that the producers looked for nontraditional guests for talking about particular topics. In this case, the interviewer spoke with two women’s health advocates, both who have experienced HPV firsthand (as opposed to speaking with a doctor or a public health expert). Both women work for organizations whose mission is to research and educate on HPV and cervical cancer.

The podcast is pretty short and definitely worth a listen, and I think for a ‘rough cut,’ it’s pretty good – they talked at length about how little most women seem to know about HPV, and that a startling 95% of cervical cancer cases originated with HPV. I found it surprising that while they mentioned the new HPV vaccine, they did not address the political issues and arguments around it in any kind of detail, which to me are the most interesting – after all, what good is a vaccine if right-wing fundamentalists refuse to allow it to young women for fear that it will turn them into sluts overnight? (oh, I love abstinence-only education).

I should say that I love the idea of talking to nontraditional experts about issues like this. These women are more than qualified to talk about HPV, perhaps even more so than a doctor. I also like a show that attempts to not make assumptions. It has potential to be a bit less staged and more accessible than your typical NPR fare. I’m not sure what the topics of the upcoming podcasts will be but I am certainly looking forward.

The other quick piece is that NYC Mayor Bloomberg is spearheading a plan to make NYC-brand condoms in a variety of colors, with the condoms and packaging corresponding to different subway lines! I think this is really fantastic. Safe sex + NYC merchandise, all in one package. As Gothamist points out, NYC has the highest rate of HIV/AIDS in the country. This is a much-needed project, and it seems like they’re going about it through “marketable” means. (Thanks to Gothamist for linkage).


get out the map

January 5, 2007

If you haven’t read my post of questions about ‘femme’ yet, or if you have and you haven’t posted comments or thoughts (most of you, dear readers), please do so now. Clicky clicky.

Moving on. I am finally caught up on my New Yorker reading – thank goodness for the holiday issue, which covered two weeks. Next week’s Talk of the Town has a great little piece about mapping the home neighborhoods/streets of incarcerated New Yorkers (full text). I, personally, love maps. I live in a country (and a city, more specifically) that is so obsessed with itself that its residents know little about the geography of the rest of the world. I try not to be that New Yorker. New Yorkers do love maps of their own city, as demonstrated by Gothamist’s Map of the Day. And as we learn, maps can be revealing.

This map reveal[s] that more prison-bound Bronx residents lived in walkups than in any other type of building, that Staten Island is the most law-abiding borough, and that Brooklyn— nicknamed “the borough of churches”—ran up the state’s highest bill in prison costs.

The rest of the short article (It’s short, seriously. Worth the 5 minutes) goes into a little bit of detail about what the color-coded map revealed about certain neighborhoods: Bed-Sty, several in the South Bronx, and the Upper East Side, for example. The great part is when the map-makers calculate how much certain blocks are worth vis a vis of how much money the government has put into incarcerating them:

Cadora and his team calculated every block’s prison costs by multiplying the minimum sentence of each incarcerated person by his estimated annual prison fees ($32,400), then adding these numbers together. By this logic, a serial killer on Fifth Avenue who gets a life sentence could make up his own million-dollar block. The borough with the most million-dollar blocks is Manhattan (“mainly because the blocks are so small”); the city’s most expensive block in 2003, a housing project along Harlem River Drive, not far from Yankee Stadium, cost the state $6.2 million and had forty-nine of its six hundred and eighty-nine male residents put behind bars.

The point of this whole project?

Cadora and his team believe that their map depicts a system spending millions to imprison people but little on the communities to which they return.

I don’t know if I can say much more. A picture is worth 1,000 words, I guess. It’s unbelievable that we can spend so much money imprisoning a person and spending nothing on improving the environment from which that person came. Talk about fixing a symptom without bothering to figure out what the problem is.

Full text here. See also the Prisoners of the Census website (A project of the Prison Policy Initiative). You can see the Brooklyn section of the map here.


surprise: internalized racism still alive and well

December 27, 2006

Yesterday an interesting story in the NYTimes revealed some of the problems faced by middle-class black families in hiring nannies to care for their children. In my work with JFREJ, we talk at length about the intricacies of the power dynamic between Jewish employers and their employees, most often women of color. The story that the Times tells is one of fraught internalized racism, usually involving some combination of stereotypes, fear, and perhaps self-hatred:

…interviews with dozens of nannies and agencies that employ them in Atlanta, Chicago, New York and Houston turned up many nannies — often of African-American or Caribbean descent themselves — who avoid working for families of those backgrounds. Their reasons included accusations of low pay and extra work, fears that employers would look down at them, and suspicion that any neighborhood inhabited by blacks had to be unsafe.

I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that much, considering how much internalized racism/ classism/ homophobia/ anti-semitism/ etc. is such a huge part of how all those ‘isms’ function. The truth is that the stereotype of employers of nannies, at least in New York City, is white and middle- and upper-class folks. It would follow that nannies and potential nannies would hold that stereotype as well.

Because of the nature of domestic work and the means through which most nannies find their jobs (only a small percentage find their jobs through agencies) and also because many domestic workers are undocumented*, statistics on the racial and class makeup of employers of domestic workers are hard to come by. (some statistics on domestic workers, by the way, are available in a study that came out last year, published by Domestic Workers United [DWU].)

The one thing that the article doesn’t stress quite enough is how unofficial the nature of the industry is, how despite the large numbers, most nannies find their jobs through their own informal networks. This is an environment in which rumors and stereotypes thrive. This angle might have set the context a bit better.

The interesting parts of the article are, of course, the most extreme stories of discrimination and stereotyping. A family living in Clinton Hill described their painful search for a nanny:

One sitter, a Caribbean woman living in Bedford-Stuyvesant, asked about the “colored” people in the Boones’ neighborhood, Clinton Hill. A Russian sitter said enthusiastically that although she had never cared for a black child, she could in this case, because little Emerie Boone, now 7 months old, was light-skinned. All sitters expressed surprise that a black couple could afford a four-story brownstone.

A Harvard sociologist analyzed the complex power dynamics resulting from a black nanny working for a black employer:

The problem may be as much about class as race…for nannies, working for an employer of the same background or skin color “highlights their lower economic status,” she said, but “the fact that their employers are black just makes that more intense.”

Here it is. If a woman of color who lives in Queens works for a white family on the upper east side, the differences are about so much more than class. Differentials of race, religion, culture, even location, can add to the equation of power, when the basic inequality is that of class. And that differential is even more pronounced when race can’t serve as a marked difference (the most obviously visible) between an employer and employee.

As a JFREJ member, my initial reaction is that this is an indication of a larger problem with the domestic work industry, which is the lack of standards and legal protection. Neither domestic workers nor their employers are protected by any kind of legislative standards. The other problem, which is certainly related, is that because domestic work takes place in an intimate space and between one or two employers and one employee, combating stereotypes and assumptions is an even more daunting task than it might be in another industry.

*or “illegal,” according to the NYTimes. I hate that it’s still acceptable in mainstream newspapers to call human beings illegal.