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Equality is nothing to fear

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty April 27, 2010 08:59 PM

Everybody knows that fear is the great motivator. Ask any advertising professional, political campaign manager, or the folks who deliver the nightly mayhem report on your local news stations. No doubt about it: fear sells and boosts ratings.

So I should not have been surprised when gubernatorial hopeful Charlie Baker resorted to scare-mongering tactics to campaign against a bill that would ensure equal protection under the law for people who are transgender.

The bill would add Massachusetts to 13 other states that already protect the rights of transgender people by including gender identity and expression in the state's non-discrimination statutes. Recent polls show that 76 percent of Massachusetts voters support this legislation as a matter of basic fairness. Most people believe that transgender people deserve to live without fear of violence or discrimination.

Apparently, Baker doesn't agree. Dubbing the civil rights legislation the "bathroom bill," Baker vowed to veto the bill if he is elected -- as did State Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill, who is running for governor as an independent.

In contrast, Governor Deval Patrick said, "I feel very strongly that discrimination should not appear in our Constitution or in our laws."

Calling this civil rights bill a bathroom bill is blatant fear-mongering. Personally, I don't spend time checking out other people's private parts in public restrooms. I don't think it's any of my business. Then again, I have a hard time figuring out how it is Charlie Baker or Tim Cahill's business, either.

The scary bathroom trick is the same one that was used in the 1930s to warn against "Bolsheviks breeding in your washroom." Opponents of the Equal Rights Amendment trotted out the old saw again in 1970s, warning that equal rights would lead to men and women sharing public bathrooms.

Well, 34 years after passage of the state ERA, I'm not aware of any women trying to beat down the door to public men's rest room (no thanks, gents'; we'd rather wait in long lines for the women's rest room). It's silly to suggest that ensuring equal rights will mean that sex-segregated facilities will be used any differently than they are now.

But we all know that this public debate isn't about bathrooms. It's about ensuring equal protection under the law for everybody: a fundamental principle of American democracy.

It also is about the use of fear in politics.

So, let's talk about transgender equal rights and fear.

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For women, it's still 77 cents for every $1 earned by a man

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty April 20, 2010 03:40 PM

If you or someone you know is a woman, I want to extend this well-earned Equal Pay for Equal Work day greeting to you.

Today, April 20, marks the number of additional days in 2010 that the average woman had to work after December 31, 2009 to earn the same amount that a man earned in 2009 alone.

Can you believe that 90 years after women won the right to vote and nearly 50 years after Congress passed the first Equal Pay Act, women who work full time still earn 77 cents for every dollar men earn? For women of color, the numbers are worse. In 2008, African American women made only 61 cents and Latinas only 52 cents for every dollar earned by white men.

We should be outraged. Working families like mine -- and perhaps like yours -- depend on women to be wage-earners alongside men. In the current economic climate, in particular, entire families feel the pain of wage discrimination.

We're not talking about nickels and dimes here. Former Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor and Brandeis University economist Evelyn Murphy, in her breakthrough research on gender wage discrimination, estimates that chronic wage discrimination translates into lost income of between $700,000 and $2 million over a career.

Wow. Imagine what you or I could do with that kind of hard cash!

The figure is even more alarming when you realize the loss of pension and social security benefits that also occurs when you get underpaid for a lifetime.

Fortunately, we have a perfect opportunity to change this for the better.

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Mad as hell...and having a tea party

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty April 15, 2010 01:27 PM

One of the best things about living in Massachusetts is that we are so civilized. Yesterday’s tea party on the Boston Common is a perfect example of New England open-mindedness at its best.

In proper Boston style, we opened our beloved Common to some "Gods, Guns & Guts" speeches about our country. One-time SNL comedian Victoria Jackson heated up the crowd by declaring President Obama to be a "communist." Short-time Alaska Governor Sarah Palin pulled out her well-worn slogan that, "We'll keep clinging to our Constitution, our guns and our religion -- you can keep the change."

But even after Ms. Jackson and Ms. Palin had their respective shouts, there was no denying that the Tea Party rally on Boston Common tapped into vein of discontent that is important to watch.

Never mind that far fewer people showed up than the 10,000 predicted -- although the aerial photos reveal a surprisingly low turn-out.

So what if local Republican hopefuls -- notably newly-elected Senator Scott Brown and gubernatorial hopeful Charlie Baker -- found their dance-cards too full to make it?

We’re still better off for hosting the conversation.

So, who was there? The ACLU of Massachusetts sent a few staffers over to check it out.

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Why Justice Stevens matters

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty April 9, 2010 02:25 PM

Our nation owes a debt of gratitude to retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. Known for his personal modesty and independent legal reasoning, Justice Stevens embodies the best of the American judiciary.

Already, pundits have started speculating who will be the next appointee to the highest court in the land -- including some critical insights on what Justice Stevens' retirement could mean for American jurisprudence.

Politicians, meanwhile, are positioning themselves for what is bound to be a highly partisan and bruising confirmation battle between the White House and the Senate -- a prospect that makes one feel weary just thinking about it.

A constructive place to start the public conversation is to reflect on the many contributions to individual liberty that Justice Stevens made as a Supreme Court justice -- and why each of us should be grateful for the freedom we enjoy as a result.

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On pins and needles defending artistic expression

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty April 8, 2010 03:48 PM

Stroll down any Massachusetts street on a sunny day and you are will see a lot of bare skin adorned with some nifty (and some not-so-nice) tattoos.

Once the emblem of American GI's and Japanese yakuzas, tattoos have become ubiquitous among the under-30 crowd. It's the rare person who hasn't fallen under the spell of the needle and dye. Even the trend-setting Institute for Contemporary Art in Boston is opening an exhibit next week featuring Mexican tattoo artist, Dr. Lakra.

But did you know that tattooing was recently illegal in Massachusetts and many other states? It's true. It took a lawsuit by the ACLU in 2000 to strike down restrictions on tattoo artists in Massachusetts, thus ensuring that this ancient form of self-expression is no longer criminalized in our Commonwealth.

On April 15 at 7 p.m., the ICA will feature a conversation about the case with ACLU attorney Sarah Wunsch, who was co-counsel with Harvey Schwartz in litigating the challenge to the Massachusetts law banning tattooing.

To some people, such legal victories seem only skin deep. But on closer examination, the right to tattoo is part and parcel of our right to artistic expression.

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What Ann Coulter and Hillary Clinton have in common

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty April 1, 2010 06:31 PM

What do Ann Coulter and Hillary Clinton have in common? These doyennes from opposite ends of the American political spectrum both have been in the news defending freedom of speech.

Coulter, a right-wing polemicist, was kept off the stage at the University of Ottawa in Canada last week by protestors who effectively used a "heckler's veto" to keep Coulter from speaking after she made ignorant and offensive remarks about Muslims.

Coulter expressed outrage, saying, "I go to the best schools, Harvard, the Ivy League and those kids are too intellectually proud to threaten speakers."

Given Coulter's stated commitment to free speech, you'd think she and her friends over at FOX television would applaud the recent move by Secretary of State Clinton to lift a Bush administration-imposed ban on two renowned scholars who were kept out of the U.S. because of their political views. Instead, Fox & Friends objected when one of those scholars -- noted South African political scientist Adam Habib -- was invited to speak at Harvard Law School yesterday.

What is up with that? It sure smells like a double standard to me.

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About the author

Carol Rose is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. A lawyer and journalist, Carol has spent her career working for and writing about human rights and civil liberties, both in the United States and abroad. More »

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