Category Archives: Issues

MA Supreme Judicial Court to Hear Barnstable Needle Access Case February 9

GLAD and AIDS Action to Argue that MA Law Permits and Promotes Needle Access

On Thursday, February 9, the Supreme Judicial Court will hear arguments in the case AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod v. Town of Barnstable, in which AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod (ASGCC) will argue that its program providing sterile needles to people who inject drugs is indisputably legal under Massachusetts law.
“This case will determine the scope of our ability to stem the tide of HIV and Hepatitis C transmission among people who inject drugs and prevent deaths from fatal overdoses” said GLAD’s AIDS Law Project Director Ben Klein, who will present argument at the SJC. “The Legislature repealed all restrictions on the possession and distribution of needles in 2006 in order to address this public health crisis. It is important for the SJC to declare that providing clients with sterile needles is entirely lawful.”




In December 2015, a Texas grand jury announced that none of the law enforcement officers involved in the death of 28-year old Sandra Bland would be indicted. In the midst of the grief of close family and friends, nationwide mourning, and public debate attempting to make sense of the mysterious details of a death ruled as a suicide, one issue comes to the forefront: the failure to center black women in the continued fight against police brutality towards African Americans in the United States.

The Black Lives Matter movement has gathered enormous momentum with the creation of the hashtag and numerous online forums, mobilizing activists to hold protests across the country in order to shine a light on the use of excessive and often fatal force in the policing of black and brown bodies, and to reinforce the message that African American lives should be valued and not treated as disposable. The heightened media attention for male victims of police brutality like Eric Garner, Mike Brown and Tamir Rice may not necessarily indicate that general members of the public and national authorities are actually invested in the effort to disrupt and transform a system which still hinges on a violent history of slave labor and racial segregation. It however highlights the troubling rhetoric which frames police brutality as a form of violence faced almost exclusively by black men.

It is even more frustrating to note that despite the fact that Black Lives Matter was founded by three women, Opal Tometi, Alicia Garza and Patrisse Cullors, there is a tendency to cling to male activists that have risen from within the movement. This phenomenon isn’t exactly unique to our times. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s showed a similar elevation of male leaders as the representatives of the struggle, while the women who played pivotal roles in the progress of the movement were diminished to the background. This erasure of women from the struggle against racial and socioeconomic inequity suggests a dangerous perpetuation of the notion of black women as the sacrificial, auxiliary figures whose cause must always be submerged for the benefit of black men and of society in general.

An adjustment of the movement to reflect the multiple, intersecting systems of oppression operating over the lives of black women may also fall into dangerous territory by going to another extreme and relying on the trope of black female victimhood which also provides an incomplete portrait of black women’s position. It is nevertheless incredibly important to recognize and name not only the women who continue to advocate for justice but also those who have suffered the same brutality that has previously been understood as a “war on black men”. Black women also face sexual violence as their bodies have been and continue to be over-sexualized and dehumanized in such a way that manages to pin this violence onto their own sexual or moral deviance rather than on the offender. The lack of media coverage concerning the case of former Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw represents only one of many such instances. He received a 263-year prison sentence for the sexual assault of 13 black women.

16-year old Gynnya McMillen is the latest black girl to die in police custody. We can also not forget the extreme force used against black girls in a classroom in South Carolina and at a neighborhood pool party in Texas. Natasha McKenna. Tanisha Anderson. Kayla Moore. Rekia Boyd. How many of these names do you know? Black female activists have been mobilizing under the #SayHerName campaign to give a more complete representation of those affected by police brutality. To read about the work being done to ensure that this narrative is brought to the public consciousness, visit the African American Policy Forum website here.


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Bodies and Battlegrounds: Women’s Right to Choose

planned parenthood picWomen’s bodies have been transformed into a site for political and ideological debate in the Senate, in the media and in the general discussion of women’s rights and reproductive health. Conservative politicians have targeted Planned Parenthood, as they speak out against abortion, birth control and other issues pertaining to women’s health. At a recent campaign event in Iowa, GOP presidential hopeful Ted Cruz made some supposedly humorous remarks concerning women’s access to contraception, dismissing claims that his anti-choice stance is denying women their fundamental rights. Instead, he argued that his democratic opponents just attack his views as a tool to hurt his campaign.

Beyond the campaign platform, however, lies a more frightening discourse exemplified by events such as the release of a video claiming to show evidence that Planned Parenthood was responsible for the sale of fetal tissue for profit. This video (a gross distortion later shown to have little credibility) aimed to deepen negative perceptions of abortion and abortion providers amongst the general public. In fact, for many women abortion provides a safe choice for ending an unwanted pregnancy, whether from a traumatic sexual assault, or from contraceptive failure, or from an instance of having sexual intercourse without contraception.

The morbid focus on “baby parts” in this video has fueled the idea that Planned Parenthood clinics should all be shut down. This ignores the fact that abortion procedures represent only a fraction of the wide range of critically important reproductive health services that Planned Parenthood offers, often to women with limited incomes and in areas where NO other similar services are available.

It is in this general atmosphere of dangerous anti-abortion rhetoric that the U.S. Senate has just passed a bill to repeal certain elements of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and to cut federal funding of Planned Parenthood for a year. While Republicans do not have the required majority to override President Obama’s veto, this is nonetheless alarming. It is also likely that such rhetoric has spurred many of the violent attacks against Planned Parenthood clinics across the country. As we have seen before, last Friday’s shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs is being treated as though it were an isolated incident, with media outlets reluctant to label it domestic terrorism. Instead, the shooter is portrayed as a disturbed individual acting outside the influence of the hostile language and climate that anti-abortion activists have created.

Anti-women’s health extremists like Robert Dear are not acting in a vacuum. Their personal religious and political beliefs are bolstered by the ideologies which demonize abortion and deny women the agency to care for their bodies in a way that is best for their physical and mental health. It is not surprising that Dear uttered the words “no more baby parts” during his arrest, an eerie echo of the anti-abortion sentiment created by the distorted video. The fact that Dear carried out this brutal attack on a Planned Parenthood facility, taking the lives of three people, has ignited the usual debates concerning gun control, mental health, and which individuals are classified as terrorists or not (according to their ethnic background). Above all, the attack is also a terrifying manifestation of the fight being waged over women’s bodies and their right to make choices for themselves. Where are women to go if our safe spaces are being transformed into literal and figurative battlegrounds?

(Photo Credit: Ellise Verheyen/Columbian

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Two Pastors and 90-year-old Face Jail Time for Feeding Homeless


November 3, 2014;WPLG Local 10 (Miami, FL)

This past week, two pastors and a 90-year-old man were charged by Fort Lauderdale police for violating a new city ordinance banning public food sharing. Arnold Abbott, 90, was the first to be charged. Having run a nonprofit that has been feeding the homeless in Fort Lauderdale for over 20 years, Abbott has faced obstacles to his mission from the city before. In 1999, Abbott won a lawsuit against the city after restrictions against feeding the homeless on Fort Lauderdale Beach were announced. And legal action might be needed again, as Abbott and the local pastors face up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine for their charitable work.

In 2012, NPQ covered a similar situation concerning food sharing in Philadelphia. Before that, in 2011, it wasFood not Bombs in an Orlando park. And according to surveys found in the October 2014 report from the National Coalition for the Homeless, “Share No More,” 12 cities, in addition to Ft. Lauderdale and Philadelphia, passed property use restrictions for feeding the homeless in 2013-2014. Such ordinances block the use of public space in terms of public food sharing, claiming that providing food to people experiencing homelessness causes traffic congestion and an increase in littering. Other cities cite food safety among the reasoning behind their anti-food sharing regulation. As such, nonprofits and others looking to distribute food in these cities often need to obtain a variety of special permits—a process that can be costly and time consuming for smaller organizations and individuals.

Such criminalization of the homeless and of people offering assistance is being fought by organizations like the National Coalition for the Homeless, the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. Claiming that regulations and restrictions on the homeless and their supports are not only ineffective and cost-inefficient as policy but also inhumane, advocacy against such marginalization of the homeless is reaching international levels. In November, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty will ask the U.N. Committee Against Torture to review the U.S.’s human rights treaty commitments to rule that the criminalization violates our country’s human rights obligations. Such rights include the right to food, as confirmed by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1999, the Commission on Human Rights in 2000 and the United Nations Organization for Food and Agriculture in 2003.

By ending criminalization, efforts can be put into policies that help the individuals who are suffering from homelessness achieve success rather than penalizing them for their human needs. Such goals can only be achieved through resolving the causes of homelessness – not by banning support services to those that need them.—Michele Bittner


Originally posted by: Non Profit Quarterly


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Mass. voters back paid sick leave

Voters have approved a ballot question that supporters say will give Massachusetts the nation’s strongest requirement for providing paid sick time to workers, according to the Associated Press.

Question 4 entitles people to earn up to 40 hours of paid sick time each year if they work for businesses with 11 or more employees; staff at smaller companies would earn 40 hours of annual unpaid sick time.

Proponents of the ballot initiative said the change would improve productivity and public health, because workers now have to choose between going to work sick and losing income.

Those who urged a no vote argued that small businesses need flexibility and should not have their hands tied by new regulations.

November 05, 2014   Boston Globe


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New Health Department Regulations Help Transgender Population

Originally posted by the ACLU.

Posted October 24, 2014.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island and Youth Pride Inc. today commended the RI Department of Health for adopting new “vital records” regulations this week that will make it easier for transgender people to revise the gender designation on their birth certificate.

Beyond the intrinsic value of having a birth certificate that corresponds to their identity, transgender people may have a strong need to change the gender marker on their birth certificate for many critical reasons related to employment, schooling, as well as social recognition of their gender.

Until now, the DOH essentially required gender reassignment surgery in order to change the gender designation on a birth certificate. The current medical consensus is clear that surgery is neither appropriate nor necessary for many transgender people, and such a requirement therefore imposes an unreasonable and unwarranted burden.

Under the new policy, the DOH will allow a gender marker change based on certification by a medical provider that the individual has undergone surgical and/or hormone treatment or “other treatment appropriate for the individual.” In order to protect individual privacy, the regulations also allow new birth certificates with the appropriate gender designation to be issued without indicating that the birth certificate has been changed.

Across the country, other agencies have adopted inclusive policies similar to this one. In recent years, for example, the U.S. Department of State and the Social Security Administration have revised their policies to recognize that gender transitions do not require surgery. The states of Oregon, Washington, Vermont and California, as well as the District of Columbia, have also adopted comparable standards to ensure that transgender individuals can obtain accurate identification without proof of surgery. This approach recognizes that the state should not be substituting its judgment over that of licensed health care professionals.

“This is another great step towards equality and inclusion for transgender Rhode Islanders,” said Kerri Kanelos, Executive Director of Youth Pride Inc. “These updated regulations will now allow transgender people to obtain accurate birth certificates that match their other vital documents, as they access employment, housing, education, and many other systems that require this documentation.”

ACLU of RI executive director Steven Brown added: “Rhode Island was one of the first states to ban discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression. Yet we know that transgender individuals continue to face severe and blatant discrimination. It is critical that they be able to obtain, without unnecessary obstacles, essential documentation from the state to accurately reflect their identity. Adoption of these regulations goes a long way in furthering the state’s leadership in protecting transgender rights.”

Under the new rules, the medical certifications can be provided by physicians, registered nurses and physician assistants. The ACLU and YPI both said they hoped that at some point in the future the DOH would expand the list to include qualified mental health professionals, who also regularly provide treatment for transgender individuals.

The ACLU of RI and Youth Pride Inc. previously testified in support of these regulations helping transgender people. The new rules take effect in twenty days.

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A Super Simple Way To Cut Teen Pregnancy And Abortion Rates By 75 Percent


Originally posted on October 2nd, 2014 by ThinkProgress



Providing teenage girls with affordable access to long-lasting contraception, like intrauterine devices (IUDs), can cut their rates of unintended pregnancy and abortion by more than 75 percent, according to a new study published in theNew England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday. The data suggests that teens can effectively prevent pregnancy when they’re educated about their full range of sexual health options.

The results come from a large research project, called the Contraceptive CHOICEstudy, being conducted in St. Louis. Researchers there are studying the impact of providing a group of low-income women with the birth control method of their choice free of charge, which is the same policy at the heart of the health law’s contraception mandate.

The latest data was derived from tracking a group of 1,404 teen girls enrolled in the Contraceptive CHOICE project, the vast majority of whom were already sexually active and at particular risk for unintended pregnancy. After those girls received counseling about their different birth control options, and were given a chance to select any method free of charge, 72 percent of the group opted for an IUD or an implant, which are more effective methods because they involve less user error. That’s dramatically higher than the national rate of teen IUD use, which currently hovers around five percent.

choice projectAnd after that, researchersobserved a significant declinein the pregnancy, birth, and abortion rates among those teens. While sexually experienced U.S. teens have an annual pregnancy rate of 158.5 per 1000, for instance, that rate was just 34 per 1000among the teen participants in the CHOICE project.

Altogether, over five years, researchers observed that the pregnancy rate dropped by 79 percent and the abortion rate declined by 77 percent for the girls who participated in their study. Plus, while African American teens have a higher unintended pregnancy rate than white teens nationwide, that racial disparity virtually disappeared in the CHOICE project.

Experts are hailing the “landmark” results, which come just a few days after the American Academy of Pediatrics officially endorsed IUDs as the “first line” of contraception that doctors should recommend to teens. Two years ago, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology took the same position.

“If we provide great contraceptive care and access to all of our teens in the U.S., this is what we could see,” Gina Secura, the lead author of the study and a senior epidemiologist at the Washington University School of Medicine, told Al Jazeera. “We are still in a country where it just makes us skeevy to talk about sex, especially with young folks. It’s a real bummer because we actually have a medical intervention that will work, and we just need to be better about talking about it.”

Previous research has found that parents tend to be uncomfortable with the idea that doctors might recommend IUDs to their teenage children, perhaps partly because they’re worried it will give kids more of a license to be sexually promiscuous. That’s the same attitude that has fueled the resistance to other policies that could effectively prevent teen pregnancies, like implementing comprehensive sex ed across the country. While researchers recommend that sexual health classes should start as early as age 10, many public school districts still resist any efforts to move away from “abstinence-only” courses that tell kids having sex will make them dirty.

Doctors are optimistic about move toward IUDs — the number of teens using them tripled between 2007 and 2009 — and hope the trend will continue. State-level programs that have expanded teens’ access to IUDs have seen similarly encouraging results as the CHOICE project. In Colorado, teen births have dropped by 40 percent over the past five years for this reason.

But without insurance coverage, cost can be a barrier; IUDs can be more than $1,000 upon insertion. Although the health care reform law eliminates that cost, craft chain Hobby Lobby’s recent win at the Supreme Court has given other companies an opening to try to drop coverage for this particular type of birth control.

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Link to original article: What My Bike Has Taught Me About White Privilege.

The phrase “white privilege” is one that rubs a lot of white people the wrong way. It can trigger something in them that shuts down conversation or at least makes them very defensive. (Especially those who grew up relatively less privileged than other folks around them). And I’ve seen more than once where this happens and the next move in the conversation is for the person who brought up white privilege to say, “The reason you’re getting defensive is because you’re feeling the discomfort of having your privilege exposed.”

I’m sure that’s true sometimes. And I’m sure there are a lot of people, white and otherwise, who can attest to a kind of a-ha moment or paradigm shift where they “got” what privilege means and they did realize they had been getting defensive because they were uncomfortable at having their privilege exposed. But I would guess that more often than not, the frustration and the shutting down is about something else. It comes from the fact that nobody wants to be a racist. And the move “you only think that because you’re looking at this from the perspective of privilege” or the more terse and confrontational “check your privilege!” kind of sound like an accusation that someone is a racist (if they don’t already understand privilege). And the phrase “white privilege” kind of sounds like, “You are a racist and there’s nothing you can do about it because you were born that way.”

And if this were what “white privilege” meant—which it is not—defensiveness and frustration would be the appropriate response. But privilege talk is not intended to make a moral assessment or a moral claim about the privileged at all. It is about systemic imbalance. It is about injustices that have arisen because of the history of racism that birthed the way things are now. It’s not saying, “You’re a bad person because you’re white.” It’s saying, “The system is skewed in ways that you maybe haven’t realized or had to think about precisely because it’s skewed in YOUR favor.”

I am white. So I have not experienced racial privilege from the “under” side firsthand. But my children (and a lot of other people I love) are not white. And so I care about privilege and what it means for racial justice in our country. And one experience I have had firsthand, which has helped me to understand privilege and listen to privilege talk without feeling defensive, is riding my bike.


Now, I know, it sounds a little goofy at first. But stick with me. Because I think that this analogy might help some white people understand privilege talk without feeling like they’re having their character attacked.

About five years ago I decide to start riding my bike as my primary mode of transportation. As in, on the street, in traffic. Which is enjoyable for a number of reasons (exercise, wind in yer face, the cool feeling of going fast, etc.) But the thing is, I don’t live in Portland or Minneapolis. I live in the capital city of the epicenter of the auto industry: Lansing, MI. This is not, by any stretch, a bike-friendly town. And often, it is down-right dangerous to be a bike commuter here.

Now sometimes its dangerous for me because people in cars are just blatantly a**holes to me. If I am in the road—where I legally belong—people will yell at me to get on the sidewalk. If I am on the sidewalk—which is sometimes the safest place to be—people will yell at me to get on the road. People in cars think its funny to roll down their window and yell something right when they get beside me. Or to splash me on purpose. People I have never met are angry at me for just being on a bike in “their” road and they let me know with colorful language and other acts of aggression.

I can imagine that for people of color life in a white-majority context feels a bit like being on a bicycle in midst of traffic. They have the right to be on the road, and laws on the books to make it equitable, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are on a bike in a world made for cars. Experiencing this when I’m on my bike in traffic has helped me to understand what privilege talk is really about.

Now most people in cars are not intentionally aggressive toward me. But even if all the jerks had their licenses revoked tomorrow, the road would still be a dangerous place for me. Because the whole transportation infrastructure privileges the automobile. It is born out of a history rooted in the auto industry that took for granted that everyone should use a car as their mode of transportation. It was not built to be convenient or economical or safe for me.

And so people in cars—nice, non-aggressive people—put me in danger all the time because they see the road from the privileged perspective of a car. E.g., I ride on the right side of the right lane. Some people fail to change lanes to pass me (as they would for another car) or even give me a wide berth. Some people fly by just inches from me not realizing how scary/dangerous that is for me (like if I were to swerve to miss some roadkill just as they pass). These folks aren’t aggressive or hostile toward me, but they don’t realize that a pothole or a build up of gravel or a broken bottle, which they haven’t given me enough room to avoid–because in a car they don’t need to be aware of these things–could send me flying from my bike or cost me a bent rim or a flat tire.

So the semi driver who rushes past throwing gravel in my face in his hot wake isn’t necessarily a bad guy. He could be sitting in his cab listening to Christian radio and thinking about nice things he can do for his wife. But the fact that “the system” allows him to do those things instead of being mindful of me is a privilege he has that I don’t. (I have to be hyper-aware of him).

This is what privilege is about.  Like drivers, nice, non-aggressive white people can move in the world without thinking about the  “potholes” or the “gravel” that people of color have to navigate, or how things that they do—not intending to hurt or endanger anyone—might actually be making life more difficult or more dangerous for a person of color.

Nice, non-aggressive drivers that don’t do anything at all to endanger me are still privileged to pull out of their driveway each morning and know that there are roads that go all the way to their destination. They don’t have to wonder if there are bike lanes and what route they will take to stay safe. In the winter, they can be certain that the snow will be plowed out of their lane into my lane and not the other way around.


And it’s not just the fact that the whole transportation infrastructure is built around the car. It’s the law, which is poorly enforced when cyclists are hit by cars, the fact that gas is subsidized by the government and bike tires aren’t, and just the general mindset of a culture that is in love with cars after a hundred years of propaganda and still thinks that bikes are toys for kids and triathletes.

So when I say the semi driver is privileged, it isn’t a way of calling him a bad person or a man-slaughterer or saying he didn’t really earn his truck, but just way of acknowledging all that–infrastructure, laws, gov’t, culture–and the fact that if he and I get in a collision, I will probably die and he will just have to clean the blood off of his bumper. In the same way, talking about racial privilege isn’t a way of telling white people they are bad people or racists or that they didn’t really earn what they have.

It’s a way of trying to make visible the fact that system is not neutral, it is not a level-playing field, it’s not the same experience for everyone. There are biases and imbalances and injustices built into the warp and woof of our culture. (The recent events in Ferguson, MO should be evidence enough of this–more thoughts on that here). Not because you personally are a racist, but because the system has a history and was built around this category “race” and that’s not going to go away overnight (or even in 100 years). To go back to my analogy: Bike lanes are relatively new, and still just kind of an appendage on a system that is inherently car-centric.

So–white readers–the next time someone drops the p-word, try to remember they aren’t calling you a racist or saying you didn’t really earn your college degree, they just want you to try empathize with how scary it is to be on a bike sometimes (metaphorically speaking).

One last thing: Now, I know what it is like to be a white person engaged in racial reconciliation or justice work and to feel like privilege language is being used to silence you or to feel frustrated that you are genuinely trying to be a part of the solution not the problem but every time you open your mouth someone says, “Check you privilege.” (I.e., even though privilege language doesn’t mean “You are one of the bad guys,” some people do use it that way). So if you’ll permit me to get a few more miles out of this bike analogy (ya see what I did there?), I think it can help encourage white folks  who have felt that frustration to stay engaged and stay humble.

I have a lot of “conversations” with drivers. Now, rationally, I know that most drivers are not jerks. But I have a long and consistent history of bad experiences with drivers and so, when I’ve already been honked at or yelled at that day, or when I’ve read a blog post about a fellow cyclist who’s been mowed down by a careless driver, it’s hard for me to stay civil.

But when I’m not so civil with a “privileged” driver, it’s not because I hate him/her, or think s/he is evil. It’s because it’s the third time that day I got some gravel in the face. So try to remember that even if you don’t feel like a “semi driver,” a person of color might be experiencing you the way a person on a bike experiences being passed by a semi. Even if you’re listening to Christian radio.

Brooklyn Art Museum Messages for Boston

Thank you for your thoughts and support, Brooklyn.

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