Posts by Christine C.

March 13, 2012

National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day Connects Violence Against Women and Health Disparities

If you’re online early tomorrow morning (Wednesday, March 14), head over to whitehouse.gov/live at 8:30 a.m. (EST) for a White House event commemorating National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.

According to a blog post by the Office of National AIDS Policy, the multi-agency event “will discuss the intersection of HIV/AIDS, violence against women, and gender related health disparities. Speakers and panelists will examine the juncture of these three important issues that impact women’s lives both domestically and globally.” Join the conversation on Twitter by following @AIDSgov and @PEPFAR and by using this hashtag: #NWGHAAD

Here’s the full agenda:
* Welcome and Event Overview
* Global Announcement
* Framing the Data: A Presentation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
* Research Update: A Brief Update on Ongoing Research by the National Institutes of Health
* Panel Discussion: Linkage between HIV/AIDS and violence against women; a discussion of these issues and gender related health disparities in the global/domestic context.
* Domestic Announcement
* Global and Domestic Synergy
* Closing Remarks

For more on how PEPFAR — the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief — is integrating the issue of gender-based violence in prevention and response programs, take a look at this detailed program guide. This introduction is an important statement:

There is growing consensus that HIV prevention programs must not only address the biomedical and behavioral factors involved in transmission, but also the underlying social and structural drivers that increase vulnerability. Social, political, and economic inequities fuel women’s and girls’ vulnerability to HIV and GBV. Likewise, stigma and discrimination, including against MARPs such as MSM, sex workers, transgender people, and people who inject drugs, make it impossible to prevent or treat HIV through biomedical and behavioral approaches alone. While the evidence base for both HIV structural prevention and GBV prevention are limited, strategies to empower women and girls, engage men and boys, and challenge harmful social norms show promise for addressing the underlying drivers of HIV and GBV, simultaneously reducing the risk and vulnerabilities to both.

Domestically, Kaiser Family Foundation last month released an updated fact sheet highlighting the impact of HIV/AIDS on women in the United States. The fact sheet provides current data and trends over time. In 2009 (most recent year), more than 290,000 women were among the approximately 1.2 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States. Women of color, particularly black women, are disproportionately affected, as are low-income women. And most women with HIV/AIDS receiving medical care have children under age 18.

Here’s a list of events around the country organized in connection with National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. The Centers for Disease Control last week launched Take Charge. Take the Test – a HIV testing and awareness campaign from Act Against AIDS. The campaign ill include radio, billboard and transit advertising along with a website and community outreach efforts in 10 metro areas where African American women are most affected by HIV.


March 8, 2012

International Women’s Day – Stories and Activism

International Women’s Day is traditionally marked as a day to celebrate women’s accomplishments and advocate for gender quality. The advocate component looms large today, considering the stepped-up attacks on women’s health and human rights. A sampling of stories and activities are featured below (most of which have been excerpted from their respective websites). Feel free to add your own links in the comments.

* Reproductive Rights and Justice in the United StatesDemocracy Now talks with Loretta Ross of the SisterSong Reproductive Justice Collective about the latest wave of legislative attacks on reproductive rights. Virginia has enacted a controversial law forcing women seeking abortions to have an ultrasound. Lawmakers in Georgia and New Hampshire meanwhile have advanced new curbs on abortion and contraception coverage. Georgia lawmakers are also considering a bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks based on the highly contested notion that fetuses can feel pain at that stage.

“In Georgia we got tossed back to the 19th century,” Ross says. “Republican legislators really didn’t want to hear from women, they didn’t want to pay attention and presumed that they could tell us what to do with our bodies again.”

Plus: For a close-up look at the effect of anti-Planned Parenthood sentiment on health care for low-income women, read today’s New York Times story on the closing of women’s health clinics in Texas.

And for a very funny look at women responding to the ridiculous assaults on women’s health and human rights, check out “International Slutty Women’s Day: A Story in GIFs“ by the amazing Ann Friedman.

* Women of Courage Awards: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton hosted the 2012 International Women of Courage Awards Ceremony today. First Lady Michelle Obama, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer and other U.S. and foreign dignitaries also took part. Special guests this year included Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman, 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Laureates. The names and photos of this year’s honorees — a remarkable group of activists, many of whom are working on gender-based violence issues — are available here.

The International Women of Courage will now travel to 10 U.S. cities to engage with their American counterparts through the International Visitor Leadership Program. Cities include Bozeman, MT; Cincinnati, OH; East Lansing, MI; Indianapolis, IN; Jackson, WY; Kansas City, MO; Minneapolis, MN; Pensacola, FL; St. Louis, MO; Salt Lake City, UT; and Seattle, WA. Their visit to the United States began March 5 with a stop in Pittsburgh.

* Hollaback!: Support the efforts of women around the world fighting street harassment by sharing your story today at ihollaback.org. On March 22, the group will launch its new “I’ve Got Your Back” campaign.

* Women are the Fabric: A new exhibition of quilts in the lobby of the United Nations, a tribute to the enduring strength of women and a plea for the support and protection they need to take care of themselves and their communities, opens today. Women are the Fabric displays 20 quilts embedded with powerful messages and appeals for action. Some are cries of pain from women who have directly experienced sexual violence and massacres. Several express anger at the impact of war on women. One depicts the magic of a rainforest threatened by oil exploration. Together they convey the strength of women working together on shared concerns.

Women are the Fabric quilt exhibit

* Global Maternal Health and Family Planning: The International Museum of Women (IMOW) is presenting “Healthy Mama, Healthy Baby,” the newest gallery in the online exhibition MAMA: Motherhood Around the Globe. The gallery showcases creative works, profiles, statistics and online advocacy steps to help support maternal health worldwide.

According to the United Nations (2010), a woman dies every 90 seconds from preventable causes during pregnancy and birth. “Healthy Mama, Healthy Baby” examines the current state of maternal health, as well as what is being done to improve upon the world’s maternal mortality rate.

* Planned Parenthood also has a global campaign focused on the fact that millions of women worldwide want to plan their births but lack access to modern contraception. Just last month in Honduras, the Supreme Court upheld a decision outlawing emergency contraception — and now, any woman or doctor found using or distributing the “morning-after” pill could face criminal prosecution and jail time.

Do anti-women’s health attacks like this sound familiar? That’s because the same people behind the attacks on Planned Parenthood and the women that it serves are attempting to eliminate health care funding and increase barriers to reproductive health care for women and mothers in countries all over the world. Watch the video and tell your legislators today — Health Has No Borders!

* RH Reality Check has published an article by Dana Hovig of Marie Stopes International and Alvaro Bermejo of the International HIV/AIDS Alliance on the importance of integrating family planing and HIV services.

“It is 2012, three years before the 2015 deadline the world set for itself to reduce preventable maternal deaths and new HIV infections. If we are to reach this goal, we must act more boldly than we have up until now,” they write. “Women who are at risk of unplanned pregnancy are also at risk of HIV, and vice-versa so separation of these services no longer makes sense. The global health community must work to bring family planning and HIV services together – and quickly – to save women’s lives.”

* Also at RH Reality Check, Jessica Mack writes about the maternal health advocacy group Women Deliver, which this week named its “Women Deliver 50” — a list not of individuals, but of solutions. The list includes advocacy and awareness campaigns, educational initiatives, health interventions, and more.

“It’s not quite as sexy, true, but it’s refreshingly pragmatic,” writes Mack. “Recognizing individual change makers is important, but it is almost always the case that change happens thanks to many, many people. Why not focus on how that change happened (or is happening), so others can be inspired to think bigger and crazier, and do better work?”

* “Our Bodies, Ourselves” Worldwide: One proven solution: women learning about and sharing information about their bodies and health. Take a look at the global projects based on “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” which has now been adapted by women’s groups in dozens of countries. OBOS staff has facilitated the publication and in-country use of materials in more than 25 languages, in print, digital and socially interactive formats. Learn more about these efforts by viewing panels and discussions from OBOS’s 40th Anniversary symposium, which featured our global partners in Armenia, Bulgaria, India, and Senegal, among other countries.


March 2, 2012

Friday Women’s Health Hero: Sandra Fluke

Just when we think Rush Limbaugh couldn’t possibly sink lower, he takes on Georgetown University Law student Sandra Fluke for testifying about the importance of insurance coverage for contraceptives. During his radio show this week, Limbaugh used the most offensive language he can get away with on-air: He called Fluke a slut.

The good news is at least two advertisers so far (Sleep Train and Sleep Number) have pulled their commercials off Limbaugh’s show (a petition is underway to get ProFlowers to do the same). Faculty, administrators and students from Georgetown and other law schools released a statement applauding Fluke’s “strength and grace” in the face of the attacks (really: Fluke is unflappable in every TV appearance, consistently taking the high road). President Obama called Fluke to thank her for speaking out on behalf of women — adding that her parents should be proud.

And we had the pleasure of reading Jen Doll’s take on Limbaugh, published at The Atlantic Wire:

If Rush Limbaugh slut-shames you, you’re doing something right, because he is pulling out what he imagines to be his most hurtful, vicious, full-barreled defense strategy against a woman. If you call a woman a “slut,” you see, she will cower in a corner and hide because that is akin to calling her ugly, or worthless. At least that’s what small-thinking men (and sometimes women) assume; women would rather die than be dubbed such a thing! Slut-shaming is a tool of cowards who want to make women feel bad because, truthfully, they’re afraid of what those women might do given a platform like, say, the floor of Congress. And this means Limbaugh is not just a bully, but also an über-troll, exploiting his own drummed-up outrage and the Internet’s eagerness to amplify it. Which only makes Sandra Fluke, and all of the thoughtful people out there fighting for women’s contraceptive rights — who, for the record, aren’t resorting to name-calling or troll tractics — look even better.


March 2, 2012

Massachusetts Men Join Effort to End Violence Against Women

Since 1994, when the Violence Against Women Act was first signed into law, support for this law to combat domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking has usually been a bipartisan issue. Not so in 2012, when not a single Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted in favor of a re-authorization last month.

At issue are provisions that call for protections for LGBT individuals, expand the availability of visas for undocumented immigrants who are victims of domestic abuse, and provide limited jurisdiction to Native American tribes to prosecute Indian and non-Indian offenders.

As we wait for Congress’s next steps on VAWA, it’s worth noting the work being done at the state level in Massachusetts. This week, Jane Doe Inc., held its fifth annual White Ribbon Day, a men’s initiative that pledges to be part of the solution in ending violence against women.

As the website for White Ribbon Day notes:

We’re taking our cue from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that speaks to how violence against women is a human rights violation and how these abuses around the world are obstacles to efforts for peace and gender equality in all societies.

In addition, we link importantly with The United Nations Secretary General’s new campaign UNited to End Violence Against Women, which is celebrated on International Women’s Day, March 8th.

More than 300 people attended the White Ribbon Day event on March 1 at the State House. Phallacies, a UMass Amherst student group that challenges notions of masculinity and works to end violence against women, took part.

“I always felt like I was forced to act a certain way, even if that was against the way I actually felt,” said UMass Amherst sophomore Chris Lowe. “Like why do I have to treat women [negatively] to be accepted by society?”

“My father, so he was abusive to my mother,” Lowe added. “But the lesson is to break out of the social roles that we’re put in as men.”

UMass “Phallacies” men against violence: wwlp.com


March 1, 2012

GOP Attempt to Quash Contraception Coverage Fails for Now But Begs the Question: What if There Were 83 Women Senators?

By a close vote of 51 to 48, the Senate today blocked a measure that would have allowed employers and health insurance companies to deny coverage for contraceptives and other medical services for any religious or moral objection.

The vote was on an amendment proposed by Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, who sought to insert the largest political wedge possible between an individual and her doctor. The amendment would have allowed employers and insurers to refuse to cover “specific items or services” if coverage would be “contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the sponsor, issuer or other entity offering the plan.” Here’s how that proposal could have played out, as well as the effect it may have had on the LGBT community.

The amendment was in response the current debate over the president’s plan to mandate coverage, with no co-pay, for health services the independent Institute of Medicine categorizes as “preventive” — including contraception.

Republicans balked at the compromise President Obama put forth last month in an effort to address concerns, raised loudly by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, that nonprofit church-affiliated organizations, such as hospitals and universities, shouldn’t be forced to provide birth control coverage to employees — even though those organizations receive public funding and employ people of all faiths. (Churches and other explicitly religious organizations were already exempt.) Under the work-around, insurers would directly cover contraception. Critics were not appeased.

According to a tracking poll released today by Kaiser Family Foundation, 6 in 10 Americans, including Catholics, support requiring health plans to supply free contraceptives as a preventive benefit for women.

The debate today was heated, with many Democrats displaying frustration that the country seems stuck in a half-century old debate about birth control. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont summed up the crux of the problem quite well:

“This attack is grossly unfair, and I hope that men will stand with women in the fight to protect this very basic right. Let me add my strong belief that if the United States Senate had 83 women and 17 men rather than 83 men and 17 women that a bill like this would never even make it to the floor.”

Plus: Some Republicans seem shocked (shocked!) that contraception is considered a preventive health care service. For an in-depth look at why this is the case, take a look at this article by Adam Sonfield that appeared in the Spring 2010 edition of Guttmacher Policy Review. Here’s an excerpt:

[...] Healthy People 2010, describes the importance of family planning services in terms of preventing the social, economic and medical costs of unintended pregnancy. In this context, it is the medical costs that are most relevant: “Medically, unintended pregnancies are serious in terms of the lost opportunity to prepare for an optimal pregnancy, the increased likelihood of infant and maternal illness, and the likelihood of abortion.…The mother is less likely to seek prenatal care in the first trimester and more likely not to obtain prenatal care at all. She is less likely to breastfeed and more likely to expose the fetus to harmful substances, such as tobacco or alcohol. The child of such a pregnancy is at greater risk of low birth weight, dying in its first year, being abused, and not receiving sufficient resources for healthy development.”

The CDC cites similar reasons for its own work to prevent unintended pregnancy and for labeling family planning as one of the top 10 public health achievements of the 20th century. And, indeed, there is clear evidence that contraception is effective preventive care. For example, publicly funded contraceptive services and supplies alone help women in the United States avoid nearly two million unintended pregnancies each year. In the absence of such services (from family planning centers and from doctors serving Medicaid patients), estimated U.S. levels of unintended pregnancy, abortion and unintended birth would be nearly two-thirds higher among women overall and nearly twice as high among poor women. The evidence is just as clear internationally: In 2008, use of modern contraceptives helped women prevent 188 million unintended pregnancies and, by doing so, prevented some 1.2 million newborn deaths and 230,000 maternal deaths and saved tens of millions of years of productive life (related article, page 12).

It is no surprise, therefore, that family planning was one of the five priority areas listed under “preventive health services” in the first Healthy People in 1979 and has been a focus area in every edition.

The link contained within this excerpt leads to another excellent article, “Family Planning and Safe Motherhood: Dollars and Sense,” that provides more of a global overview. For a concise summary of the key benefits worldwide, view Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s testimony this week on U.S. funding for international family planning.

Here’s the key takeaway from Clinton: “Global estimates indicate that by helping women space births and avoid unintended pregnancies, family planning has the potential of preventing 25 percent of the maternal and child deaths in the developing world. Family planning is the best way we have to prevent unintended pregnancies and abortion.”


February 29, 2012

Gabby Sidibe on What’s Missing From Movies, Plus Organizations Making a Difference

During the Oscars on Sunday night, a video montage featured a number of famous actors speaking about the power of movies. Gabourey Sidibe, a break-out star who was nominated in 2010 for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in “Precious,” shared something quite personal:

The way I watch movies, I’m really searching for myself, because I don’t get to see enough of myself and I don’t — I kind of don’t get to like myself enough.

But if I get to see myself on screen, then I know that I exist.

Gabby Sidibe at Academy Awards in 2010In that short statement, Sidibe (left, at the Academy Awards in 2010) revealed a great deal about representation and identity in Hollywood, which rarely includes women who don’t match a young, thin and white ideal. When young (and old) women don’t see themselves in popular culture — the lingua franca of our times — they receive the message that their lives are not as important or worthy of inclusion.

A number of organizations have been working to counter this message by focusing on girls’ inner beauty, smarts and talent. New Moon Girls Media, which publishes New Moon magazine and runs a moderated online community for girls, has launched Yes, I’m Beautiful!, a YouTube project that asks, “Why are you beautiful? What is true beauty? What would you say to someone who isn’t sure about her/his beauty?”

No matter what your age you can send your “Yes, I’m Beautiful” video to: beautynewmoon AT gmail.com. It’s a nice counterpoint to stories about young girls turning to YouTube to ask for public comment on whether they’re ugly.

Hardy Girls, Healthy Women is offering a free webinar in March and April to introduce its girl-driven media activism site, Powered By Girl (PBG), and will offer tips on using social media for youth activism.

As Rachel pointed out yesterday, the National Eating Disorders Association has launched Proud2BMe, which includes the Stamp Out Bodysnarking project to reduce bullying based on one’s appearance.

Later today, Lady Gaga and her mother, Cynthia Germanotta, will officially launch the Born This Way Foundation at a celebrity-filled event at Harvard University. The foundation will support programs and initiatives that empower youth — focusing on issues of self-confidence, well-being, anti-bullying, mentoring and career development.

Hollywood embraces diversity at a glacial pace. Fortunately these groups are ahead of the times.


February 22, 2012

Birth Control, Santorum and the Media: Battle Over Women’s Health Hits Feverish Pitch

You know when you’re feverish and you overhear bits and pieces from the news and it all swirls together in headache-fueled song? That’s how I spent a good part of February. I’m still coming to terms with the fact that covering prenatal testing has been called into question, or that Virginia legislators thought it would be cool to mandate transvaginal ultrasounds for women seeking abortions — at least until Gov. Robert McDonnell saw his VP hopes sink lower every time the word “transvaginal” was mentioned (the Virginia House passed an amended bill today requiring external ultrasounds instead).

At one point I assumed Komen must be behind all of this — a PR maneuver to distract from the Planned Parenthood blowback — but that, too, was the fever talking. Reality was far harsher: Republicans had set the cultural clocks back to 1950.

Consider this bit of political history, courtesy of Ann Gerhart:

“We need to take sensationalism out of this topic so that it can no longer be used by militants who have no real knowledge of the voluntary nature of the program but, rather, are using it as a political stepping stone,” said George H.W. Bush. “If family planning is anything, it is a public health matter.”

Title X, the law he sponsored that still funds family planning for the poor, passed the House by a vote of 298 to 32. It passed the Senate unanimously. A Republican president, Richard Nixon, enthusiastically signed it.

That was 1970.

Cable news channels played into the time warp, inviting almost twice as many men as women onto news programs to discuss women’s access to contraception — a huge topic thanks to a very small group, the U.S. Conference of Bishops. Jennifer Pozner, executive director of Women in Media and News, gives those media figures some depressing context:

The twitterverse seemed shocked to learn that female experts were sought out as commentators only 38 percent of the time on a story about women’s health. As a media critic, I was surprised, too—because that’s actually a higher percentage of women’s voices than typically heard across all news categories, not just in stories involving women’s bodies.

To understand institutional sexism within the media, look no further than the systematic sidelining of women’s perspectives in corporate news and public affairs programming. Women are a paltry 14 percent of all guests on influential, agenda-setting Sunday morning news shows on ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX and CNN—more than half of whose episodes feature no female guests at all (White House Project). The disparity is just as stark in nightly news, where women are 19 and 27 percent of cable and network news sources, respectively (Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism).

A new report from the Women’s Media Center paints a similarly bleak picture.

I’ve been frustrated, too, by the lack of useful information. Often (mostly) male anchors and guests ruminate over the politics of women’s health without bothering to fact-check the pompous statements and accusations, letting misinformation sit uncontested.

But there are signs of relief. While print/online publications and public radio are doing a better job than television at presenting the facts (see Erika Christakis’s smart column in Time magazine on the birth control debate and the rise of unintended pregnancies, and Irin Carmon’s longer analysis in Salon), TV news has shown some improvement.

In the wake of GOP candidate Rick Santorum’s harmful claims, I was grateful to see Marjorie Greenfield, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at University Hospitals Medical Group and a longtime contributor to “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” address the importance of insurance coverage for prenatal testing Tuesday on MSNBC. She explained the difference between routine screening tests, such as ultrasounds, and more specific diagnostic tests, such as amniocentesis, which can determine whether a fetus has certain genetic conditions. Most women who are offered amniocentesis are carrying healthy fetuses, she said, so in the vast majority of cases, testing provides reassurance.

Greenfield noted that when she discusses amniocentesis to her patients, some are certain they would terminate a pregnancy if the fetus has a genetic anomaly such as Down Syndrome; others are sure they would not. In the middle are women who don’t have a clear position but who want more information so they can decide, with their families and physicians, the best course of action. Families may turn to support groups or specialists to learn how to prepare for a child with particular health challenges, or, if the genetic anomaly is fatal, arrange for hospice care.

Amniocentesis is expensive, often costing several thousand dollars. If it were not covered by insurance, many women would be unable to obtain the facts they need to make informed decisions.

That brings us to class issues that are rarely discussed, even though the intersections of race, class and gender are unavoidable in most any discussion about women’s health. So let’s cheer for Melissa Harris-Perry, a gifted debater, who is now hosting her own two-hour news program Saturday and Sunday mornings on MSNBC. Harris-Perry made her public intellectual name as frequently the only pundit to complicate solely political horse-race debates by providing a broader social context.

Additionally, Pozner notes that Harris-Perry is “the first black progressive woman to ever solo-host her own news and politics show on a major corporate TV news outlet.” And she isn’t giving up her day job — the Tulane professor is also “the first scholar to teach a full course-load during the week, and grill politicians and pundits on live TV over the weekends.”

This past weekend featured a discussion of gender roles and positions of power in religion and in Congress. Harris-Perry started with a wonderfully nerdy look at how schema affects our attitudes and expectations of who gets to be a leader — and the importance of changing the picture. And it might be good to start with our House — and Senate. Consider: Women comprise only 17 percent of the U.S. Senate and 16.8 percent of the House membership.

Harris-Perry also took on Virginia’s anti-women push — three bills that deal women a losing hand, including the aforementioned transvaginal probes for women seeking to have an abortion; Medicaid restrictions that would force poor women to carry pregnancies to term when the fetus has an incapacitating deformity or mental deficiency; and personhood legislation that could criminalize contraception and outlaw abortion.

There is quite a good amount of organizing going on against these and other attacks on women’s rights and health — including a silent protest this week at the Virginia state capitol and this-just-in news about a march on Washington on April 28.

A number of women’s health groups have formed the Coalition to Protect Women’s Healthcare. It’s new, and it will be interesting to see where it goes. Member groups are organizing visibility events this week at the district offices of members of Congress — especially those who have been promoting religious employer exemptions. You can visit the site for facts about contraception and sign a pledge calling for insurance coverage of birth control, no matter where women work.

Visit Pinterest much? Check out The War on Women page, started by Hello Ladies, for a running catalog of stories and images (love the description: “Ladies, we are under attack. Stay informed. Stay vocal. Run for office.”).

And there’s much needed humor, and not just from the typically awesome Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. See The Second City’s Network take on contraception hearings below.

Laughter really is the best medicine.


February 7, 2012

The War on Women’s Health Care: Judy Norsigian Joins Discussion on Influence of Conservative Groups

On Monday night, OBOS Executive Director Judy Norsigian discussed the politicization of women’s health on Al Jazeera with Hadley Heath, a senior policy analyst with the Independent Women’s Forum, and Tara McGuinness, senior vice president for communications at the Center for American Progress.

“Inside Story” host Shihab Rattansi was well prepared for what turned into a very interesting discussion. The questions on the table included: Is women’s health being damaged by politics in the U.S.? Has the controversy over funding to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screening underlined the extent to which conservative groups now influence women’s health access?

On the subject of Komen backpedaling on its controversial decision to stop making grants to Planned Parenthood, Nosigian said: “What we see here is a conservatizing trend in this country that I think has emboldened many … I saw the reversal of the decision simply as damage control. I do not think there has been a profound change in perspective at all.”

McGuinness made this valuable point: “This was an effort to politicize what is not a political thing … I think when it comes to women’s health, there aren’t two sides to this issue.”

Even though Komen executive Karen Handel, who drove the decision to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood, resigned this morning, the controversy is far from being closed.

Watch the discussion below.


February 2, 2012

Komen’s Conflicts: Defunding Planned Parenthood Exposes the Politics of Breast Cancer’s Biggest Fundraiser

The fallout over the decision by Susan G. Komen for the Cure to stop giving grants to Planned Parenthood affiliates reflects a growing anger across the country over the intrusion of political ideology in matters concerning women’s health.

It’s fair to say the well-funded foundation had not thought through, or vastly underestimated, the criticism it would receive for making a thinly veiled political decision to cut off funding for breast-screening exams for low-income women. And based on the level of disapproval it’s facing, it may be sometime before Komen can recover.

In the meantime, its decision may well be remembered for activating people who, up until now, may not have given much thought to the right-wing influence on women’s health care.

It’s surprisingly easy for people to separate politics from their own lives. While they might believe certain political decisions are not very smart, they are unlikely to speak up if it does not affect them. But the breast cancer community, comprised of women recently diagnosed, survivors, family members and advocates of more research funding, has long been portrayed as one big family — largely by Komen, which sponsors the very popular and very pink fundraising walks.

For Komen to cut out some of that family — because of pressure from anti-abortion activists who refuse to acknowledge Planned Parenthood’s delivery of vital health care services — simply strikes too close to home.

Deana Rohlinger, an associate professor at Florida State University who studies women’s groups, said on NPR’s “All Things Considered” this week, “It’s not a secret by any stretch of the imagination that Planned Parenthood does abortion. That’s not brand new information. But for some people, that Komen is getting politically involved is.”

The truth is that Komen has been politically involved for some time. OBOS Executive Director Judy Norsigian, in an interview on “Morning Edition,” noted that Komen’s founder and CEO Nancy Brinker has been a longtime Republican supporter and fundraiser, “and on many occasions has supported policies that most supporters of Komen probably wouldn’t approve of.” Some of those policies are outlined in this posting at Daily Kos.

But it took pulling money for breast cancer screening from one of the most popular organizations serving women of all backgrounds to blow open Komen’s politics.

According to news reports, Komen’s president, Elizabeth Thompson, told Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a phone call in December that it would not be renewing its grants. The funding totaled around $680,000 in 2011 and $580,000 in 2010 for breast-cancer screening and other breast-health services offered at 19 Planned Parenthood affiliates.

The reason given was that the charity had adopted new rules barring grants to organizations under investigation by local, state or federal authorities, and Planned Parenthood was under House investigation. It is, of course, very easy to open an investigation without merit. In this case, Republican Rep. Cliff Stearns of Florida launched an inquiry last fall to determine whether Planned Parenthood spent public money on abortions, which is prohibited by federal law. The inquiry was seen as a far-reaching political ploy to discredit the organization, after Republicans failed to cut off Planned Parenthood funding.

Reps. Henry Waxman and Diana DeGette, both Democrats, sent a letter to Stearns questioning the basis for the investigation, noting in part that federal audits “have not identified any pattern of misuse of federal funds, illegal activity, or other abuse that would justify a broad and invasive congressional investigation.”

It struck some as no coincidence that Komen had recently hired a new senior vice-president for public policy, Karen Handel. During her failed run for governor of Georgia in 2010, Handel described herself as “staunchly and unequivocally pro-life” and pledged to eliminate grant funding for breast and cervical cancer screening at Planned Parenthood.

The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg reports that the no-investigations rule was, according to “three sources with direct knowledge of the Komen decision-making process,” created specifically as an excuse to dump Planned Parenthood, and that decision was driven by Handel. A former employee talked on the record about the resignation of Mollie Williams, Komen’s top public health official, who left the organization in protest:

John Hammarley, who until recently served as Komen’s senior communications adviser and who was charged with managing the public relations aspects of Komen’s Planned Parenthood grant, said that Williams believed she could not honorably serve in her position once Komen had caved to pressure from the anti-abortion right. “Mollie is one of the most highly respected and ethical people inside the organization, and she felt she couldn’t continue under these conditions,” Hammarley said. “The Komen board of directors are very politically savvy folks, and I think over time they thought if they gave in to the very aggressive propaganda machine of the anti-abortion groups, that the issue would go away. It seemed very short-sighted to me.”

Lessons on Media Strategy

From a PR perspective, it’s been a disaster for Komen. Previously, the foundation has had to deal with a small number of anti-abortion activists who dismiss all of Planned Parenthood’s vital healthcare services (pdf) out of hand because a small percentage of its work is abortion-related (3 percent of services in 2010 — cancer screening and prevention accounted for 14.5 percent) and who don’t understand how grants work. Some of them erronesously believe abortion raises a woman’s risk of breast cancer, though numerous studies and the National Cancer Institute have affirmed it does not.

Now Komen must confront the wrath of its own supporters, many of whom have raised thousands of dollars for Komen over the years and won’t stand for political shenanigans. Based on interviews and comments left on Komen’s discussion forum and elsewhere online, many of those women who have developed strong ties with the breast cancer community are looking to send their money elsewhere.

Kivi Leroux Miller, a nonprofit communications strategist, told Politico that Komen “pretty much cut their fundraising support in half.”

“I don’t think they meant to make a huge political statement, but it was extremely naïve of them to think this wasn’t hyper-political,” Miller continued. “They have dove head first into the abortion debate — in fact, they fell into the pool — and whoever is doing their communications doesn’t know how to swim.”

Miller has more media analysis on her site in a post titled “The Accidental Rebranding of Komen for the Cure.” Social media consultant Beth Kanter has written a good summary of online responses, “Komen Kan Kiss My Mammagram, PinActivism, and Newsjacking for a Cause.” Kanter also set up a Pininterest board, “Komen Kan Kiss My Mammogram,” named after Allison Fine’s fundraising campaign for Planned Parenthood. Kanter invited other women to contribute, and the result is fabulous collage of pro-Planned Parenthood posters, videos and news.

Source: causes.com via Beth on Pinterest

 

In another brilliant stroke of online activism, media technologist Deanna Zandt yesterday launched a Tumblr site for people to submit stories about how Planned Parenthood literally saved or changed their lives by providing birth control and affordable preventive health care. Here’s one of the many stories you’ll see:

I had gone back to school in my late 20s and was temporarily uninsured. I went to Planned Parenthood in Manhattan for my yearly checkup and contraceptives. They detected abnormal cervical cells that were precancerous, and soon afterward they performed cryosurgery to remove the cells. The fee was something this temporarily poor college student could afford. I remained loyal to PP for my annual checkup. Several years later, they found a breast lump and guided me to further screening (by then, I was insured again). I was fortunate that it turned out to be nothing, but my knowledge that PP would be there for me no matter what put my mind at ease during that week between tests.

Planned Parenthood has benefited greatly, in funding as well as good will. It received nearly $400,000 in donations in the first 24 hours after the Komen news broke. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Thursday he would personally give Planned Parenthood a $250,000 matching gift, donating $1 for ever new dollar Planned Parenthood raises up to $250,000. For more donation and activism opportunities, Katha Pollitt has a nice round-up at the end of her wonderfully titled column, “The Komen Foundation Pinkwashes Anti-choicers, Punks Planned Parenthood.”

Critiques Against Komen Go Beyond Political Bias

Komen seemed to completely misjudge the extent of the fallout, refusing to make spokespeople available Tuesday and failing to respond quickly on Facebook or Twitter. Brinker, Komen’s founder, finally appeared in a video posted to YouTube late Wednesday, terming the criticisms a “dangerous distraction.” She said the decision resulted from a review of grants and standards and pledged that the changes in grantmaking would enable Komen to ultimately help more women. Brinker also said Komen would “never turn our backs on women who need us the most.”

That remains debatable. While the public outcry stems from learning that Komen currently is not acting in the best interest of women’s health, its critics have long questioned whether the enormous amount of money Komen raises is put to good use. For instance, Komen only recently decided to start looking at the environmental causes of breast cancer — something groups like Breast Cancer Action and Silent Spring Institute have long advocated for.

In recent years, there’s been growing criticism of Komen’s ties to companies that don pink ribbons each year while developing products that contain carcinogens and increase cancer risks. (Remember the mocked “Buckets for the Cure” hookup with Kentucky Fried Chicken?) This practice, known as pinkwashing, sparked BCA’s Think Before Your Pink campaign. As Barbara Brenner, former BCA director, told NPR in 2010: “If shopping could cure breast cancer, it would be cured by now.”

In addition, Komen’s screening guidelines are at odds with recommendations put forth in 2009 by the U.S. Preventive Services Taskforce — guidelines that OBOS explained in detail back then and fully supports. Komen’s promotion of certain drugs used to treat breast cancer has also come under scrutiny.

“In the past, they’ve let women down by insisting that the FDA should continue to approve Avastin as an effective treatment for breast cancer when new evidence sadly showed, that it’s not,” Cindy Pearson, executive director of the National Women’s Health Network, said on NPR’s “Morning Edition.” “They’ve also insisted that screening for breast cancer start at a young age and be very frequent when evidence shows it’s not that much of a slam dunk anymore.”

Writing in The Atlantic, Linda Hirshman raises another question:

In a ghastly coincidence, the same day Komen pulled the money from Planned Parenthood because Stearns thought they were spending federal funds on abortions, the Journal of the America Medical Association published a damning study that almost half of women receiving second surgeries after lumpectomies didn’t need the procedure. Painful, disfiguring, unnecessary surgery. At least three of the four sites studied in the JAMA report — the University of Vermont, Kaiser Permanente Colorado, and the Marshfield Clinic — has a relationship with the Komen Foundation. Kaiser Permanente is a “corporate campaign partner,” the University of Vermont received a research grant, the Central Wisconsin Komen affiliate sponsors programs at the Marshfield Clinic. Maybe Komen should concentrate their granting criteria on whether the recipients are actually helping cancer patients.

But for now, the spotlight is on Komen’s politics.

The AP’s David Crary spoke with Patrick Hurd, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Virginia, a recipient of a 2010 grant from Komen. His wife, Betsi, has participated in several Komen for the Cure fundraising races and is currently battling breast cancer.

“We’re kind of reeling,” Hurd said. “It sounds almost trite, going through this with Betsi, but cancer doesn’t care if you’re pro-choice, anti-choice, progressive, conservative,” Hurd said. “Victims of cancer could care less about people’s politics.”

Unless those holding the purse strings play politics with cancer.


February 1, 2012

Help Knock Out Barstool Sports, Advocates of Rape for, You Know, Fun

by Meg Young

Everyone can agree that rape is not a joke, right? Apparently not, based on the popularity of the blog Barstool Sports.

At first glance, the blog appears to be a collection of comedic sports commentaries interspersed with predictable photos of scantily clad women, or “smokeshows,” to use the vernacular. However, this archive of good, clean misogynistic fun has a darker side. Many of the postings make jokes about rape and sexual assault, such as this commentary about the acquittal of a man accused of raping a woman wearing tight jeans: “[E]ven though I never condone rape if you’re a size 6 and you’re wearing skinny jeans you kind of deserve to be raped right?”

Now, Barstool is hosting the “Barstool Blackout Tour,” a series of sponsored dance parties on or near college campuses across the country. Think that sounds a little dicey? Women shouldn’t worry, according to the blog: “Just to make friends with the feminists I’d like to reiterate that we don’t condone rape of any kind at our Blackout Parties in mid January. However if a chick passes out that’s a grey area though.”

Your humble blogger is not the only one shaking with indignation. When Barstool scheduled the Northeastern University Blackout Party at the House of Blues in Boston, a group of Northeastern students called Knock Out Barstool began to rally students in the Boston area to boycott and protest the event scheduled for this Thursday, Feb. 2.

In an letter published in Northeastern’s Huntington News, students and members of Knock Out Barstool wrote, “We demand Northeastern University and its administration stand for women and denounce Barstool Sports and the NU Blackout Party. These organizations do not represent the values of our community nor our institution.”

Much to their (and my) dismay, Northeastern University has not come out directly against the parties, other than to tweet it doesn’t officially endorse them.

Visit Knock Out Barstool’s website, and if you’re in the Boston area, stand in solidarity with Northeastern students protesting this event outside the House of Blues in Boston at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday.

Meg Young is a sophomore at Tufts University, where she studies anthropology and community health. She became interested in women’s reproductive health during her time as an intern at Our Bodies Ourselves in 2009.


January 13, 2012

Ending Cervical Cancer Requires Ending Disparities in Access to Pap Tests and HPV Vaccines

Every year in the United States alone, more than 12,000 women are diagnosed and more than 4,000 women die of cervical cancer, a preventable disease that disproportionately affects women of color.

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) is launching “¡Acábalo Ya! Working Together to End Cervical Cancer.” The campaign is aimed at educating Latinas about this disease and how to protect their health; raising the profile of cervical cancer prevention as a national reproductive justice and women’s health priority; and advocating for greater access to the tools and care needed to prevent, detect, and eventually end cervical cancer.

The NLIRH is hosting a blog carnival this week on the topic: What will it take to end cervical cancer? Read more on Why Cervical Cancer is a LGBT Issue by Verónica Bayetti-Flores, NLIRH policy research specialist; Cervical Cancer Awareness Month: Trans Men and Genderqueer/Gender Nonconforming People by the National Center for Transgender EqualityScreen More Women for Cervical Cancer – Not the Same Women More Often! by Kate Ryan, program coordinator, National Women’s Health Network; and Thank YOU Affordable Care Act for Helping Cervixes Stay Healthy by Keely Monroe, program coordinator, National Women’s Health Network.

The following text on disparities in access to Pap tests and HPV vaccines has been adapted from the 2011 edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves.”

* * * * * * *

Most women who die of cervical cancer never had regular Pap tests, had false-negative results, or did not receive proper follow-up.

In the United States, socioeconomic and racial disparities are evident in statistics for cervical cancer. Vietnamese immigrants are five times more likely to be diagnosed with cervical cancer than white women. African-American and Native-American women are twice as likely to die of the disease as are white women. In one study, Hispanic women had about twice the cervical cancer incidence of non-Hispanic women in border counties near Mexico, and Hispanic women are 1.5 times more likely to die from cervical cancer as compared to non-Hispanic white women.

Disparities are due, at least in part, to women of color having less access to Pap screening and regular health care. It is quite possible that those women with the highest rates of cervical cancer will also have less access not only to Pap screening but also to the HPV vaccine. Until our health care system addresses such disparities in access, girls and women likely to benefit the most from this vaccine may well not be able to choose it.

To ensure more equal access to any adolescent vaccine, adequate infrastructure and resources must be made available. Some recommend implementation of school-based adolescent immunization programs similar to those formerly in place for delivery of hepatitis B vaccines. The United Kingdom and Australia have volunteer, nationally supported school-based campaigns that have resulted in high HPV vaccine coverage for about 70 percent of girls.

Currently, school-based health programs and routine preventive care visits for adolescents are limited in the United States, making it highly difficult to provide good access to HPV vaccines, especially the type of access needed to ensure all three required vaccine doses are administered. Available data suggest HPV vaccine coverage in the United States is low (less than 50 percent), and the proportion of girls receiving all three doses of the HPV vaccine is even lower (less than 25 percent).

Pap Tests Essential for Prevention and Treatment

HPV vaccines do not protect against all types of HPV associated with cervical cancer, and it is currently unclear how long they remain effective or whether booster shots will be needed to maintain protection throughout adulthood. Thus, regular Pap tests among sexually active women remain essential for cervical cancer prevention. Resources should not be diverted away from Pap screening programs to pay for the unusually expensive cervical cancer vaccine. Because Merck marketed Gardasil with a campaign that unnecessarily frightened girls, young women, and parents, many people now have a distorted view of this disease, the vaccine, and the continued importance of Pap screening.

There is no question that HPV vaccines represent an important scientific advance in the field of vaccine research, but exaggerating their potential benefit in places such as North America will not serve us well. In countries where there is little or no access to Pap screening, current HPV vaccines might have much more potential for saving lives if their costs were reduced considerably and if adequate infrastructure to prove them responsibly were securely in place.

The District of Columbia and dozens of states — many of which have been lobbied by vaccine makers to expand vaccination requirements — have introduced legislation to require, fund, or educate the public about the HPV vaccine. However, since 30 percent of infections are now caused by virus types for which the HPV vaccines do not provide protection, universal access to Pap tests remains critically important. Unfortunately, many girls in underserved communities (where HPV infection rates are often high) have less access to both the Pap test and the HPV vaccine.

For example, as of September 2009, when the CDC released its first state-level statistics for Gardasil, only 15.8 percent of girls in the relatively poor state of Mississippi had received the vaccine, compared with 54.7 percent of girls in the relatively wealthy state of Rhode Island. Partly because of greater access to Pap testing, the cervical cancer mortality rate in Rhode Island was already 50 percent lower than in Mississippi — which means the girls in Rhode Island are at much lower risk of contracting HPV to start with.

To reduce disparities for Latinas and other under-served women, we will need to make systemic changes in our health care system to increase access to screening and vaccinations for those who need it most.


January 9, 2012

Get Karen to Haiti! Support Local Midwives Serving Women in Earthquake-Ravaged Region

Weeks after the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake decimated Haiti’s health infrastructure, Karen Feltham, a certified nurse midwife and nursing instructor at Binghamton University, traveled to Fond Parisien, Haiti, to provide support for pregnant and laboring women at a local birth center.

Two years later, she is returning — leaving today to spend 10 days working alongside the two local Haitian midwives that staff the HCM Maternity Clinic, a birth center that serves more than 2,000 women a year. While the midwives provide the best care possible under difficult conditions, outcomes for mothers and babies could be improved with additional training and support.

Karen’s trip is sponsored by Circle of Health International, which works with local health care providers in crisis- and disaster-struck regions to ensure access to quality reproductive, maternal and newborn care. Like all COHI volunteers, Karen is donating her time, and COHI is fundraising to cover the transportation to Haiti (about $800 in airfare and local travel) and room and board on the compound where the birth center is located (about $300).

Here’s where you come in. For as little as $10, you can help send Karen to Haiti. Want to donate more? Please do so! Numerous gifts are available as perks for donors who can offer $20, $35, $50 or more.

Circle of Health International - images from Haiti

Training drills like the one shown (left) help ensure safer births in unsafe times. Women in areas of crisis or disaster often struggle to secure basic reproductive health care. The Fond Parisien Birth Center (right) serves more than 2,000 women a year, providing critical care.

It’s all part of the Get Karen to Haiti campaign that Our Bodies Our Blog and other bloggers involved in improving maternal health are participating in for the next two weeks. Hillary Boucher and Jeanette McCulloch at BirthSwell have more information about the collaborative effort.

Your donation can make a huge difference. According to COHI:

Birth Centers like the one at Fond Parisian provide a model of care for other areas in Haiti and around the world, where maternal mortality is at the highest rate in the Western Hemisphere, with 630 deaths per 100,000 live births (compared to 11 deaths per 100,000 births in the US).

The midwives at the Fond Parisien birth center have received training in supporting women in low-risk births, providing care in common emergencies, and are developing protocols for when to transfer to other emergency medical facilities. But unlike their peers in the U.S. and in other industrialized societies, they do not have access to the latest research or journals, conferences where they can share skills, or even family support.

Karen took a moment as she was preparing for her trip to talk with Our Bodies Our Blog about her birth philosophy and why she’s returning to Haiti now (see below). Her goals are specific:

* Review existing protocols for managing emergencies and deciding when to transfer to the local hospital. Provide clinical support and skill-building where it could improve outcomes for Haitian women and their babies.

* Run emergency drills using improved protocol for complications most likely to be seen at the clinic, including shoulder dystocia and postpartum hemorrhage.

* Improve monitoring processes so that the clinic can evaluate their existing protocols and make improvements based on evidence, not just anecdotal understanding.

We hope you’ll consider supporting Karen’s efforts in Haiti and visit COHI’s Facebook page to follow along on Karen’s journey. You can learn more about COHI’s efforts in Haiti on its website.

* * * * * * * * * *

Our Bodies Our Blog: You first visited Haiti after the earthquake. How did that experience affect you and your commitment to expanding access to evidence-based care?

Karen Feltham: Arriving in Haiti, especially Port Au Prince, was overwhelming. I kept thinking of how long the earthquake lasted, counting in my head and imagining the earth shaking and the buildings falling — the world changing in 30 seconds. What was that like? Homes become rubble, the living-dead. It has changed everything for me, in a way. Anything can happen, in any instant. It might sound funny, but I run through worst-case scenarios in my head and with my family. Where will you go? Where will we meet?

Witnessing the work of countless NGOs and volunteers was inspiring, as well as a bit maddening. There was (and is) really good work happening in Haiti. There are excellent providers and logisticians providing great, life-changing (and life-providing) services. And that is inspiring.

At the same time, I think that there is a feeling of, “Anything is better than nothing.” I have seen that lead to a neglect of clinical standards.

OBOB: Why are you returning now?

KF: The organization that I volunteer with (Circle of Health International) is completing their work there and turning over the operation of the clinic to a local organization. This is a nice opportunity to re-connect with midwife colleagues who I had worked with previously. My goals for the trip are to run emergency obstetric care management drills, review core competencies, and always to reinforce and encourage the midwifery model of care.

Also, skilled birth attendants at delivery (and fewer pregnancies) definitely lower the maternal mortality rate. The international community is expecting quite a bit from newly trained midwives, and midwifery is a tough job. In the United States, a licensed midwife is more likely to begin independent practice with the benefit of collaboration and experienced colleagues. And so, I feel a commitment to providing something similar to this midwife team.

OBOB: How does your birth philosophy inform your volunteer efforts?

KF: I absolutely believe in the power of kindness and how it can be transformative, even revolutionary. Think of what women bear, here and elsewhere — assault, abuse, submission. I can’t change a country’s infrastructure, health care and education policies. But I can listen. I can provide the most gentle pelvic exam and the most respectful atmosphere.

If my touch is the first that a newborn feels, then I promise to make it a gentle one. If my voice is the first that she hears, then let it be welcoming. This is what I can bring, a reminder that excellent clinical skills are essential, but that kindness is life-changing. At least that’s what I think, and it’s the best that I can offer.

OBOB: You’ve identified three goals for your time in Haiti. Can you give readers a sense of how those goals will be achieved?

KF: I’m not sure how each day will unfold. One must be very flexible in these situations. But I’m certain that each day will be very full. My volunteer partners and I will run through management of the obstetric emergencies; postpartum hemorrhage and shoulder dystocia — the “what-ifs.” It’s so valuable to run through what everyone does in these situations, and then do it again.

Also, each day will include conferencing with the midwives, which involves reviewing clinical cases and addressing whatever concerns that they might have, along with symptoms, diagnoses, and procedures they have questions about.

OBOB: Have you incorporated into your teaching at Binghamton any experiences or lessons learned from working alongside midwives in Haiti and Nicaragua?

I guess that every experience influences every other, even in subtle ways.

I teach at the Decker School of Nursing at Binghamton University in both the graduate and undergraduate programs. I love working with nursing students! They are amazingly good people. One of the courses that I teach is in global nursing. So many students are interested in really making a difference but don’t know where to begin. I try to share a bit of my own experience and encourage each individual student to find their own way. I believe in the ripple effect of good work.

Also, one thing I try to do intentionally with students is to blur the line between “us” and “them.” Haiti and Nicaragua are very far away, and it’s easy to think that the people, clinicians and patients are so very different from us. I try to refer to clinical cases that I have seen elsewhere and good clinical work and speak to the shared experience between provider and patients that happens everywhere.

Health care is what happens between midwife (and doctor and nurse) and patient. It doesn’t happen at the upper levels of the bureaucracy. It’s the thing that takes place between two people. And that is true in Ithaca, N.Y., Fond Parisien, Haiti and Managua, Nicaragua.


January 3, 2012

Congratulations to Our Editor, Kiki!

This is a purely congratulatory post, full of love and cheer and good wishes for our OBOS colleague Kiki Zeldes, who got married Dec. 30 to Susan Galereave.

Susan Galereave and Kiki Zeldes Everyone who has ever fallen in love has a story to tell. Kiki and Susan’s just happened to make the Weddings & Celebrations section of The New York Times. Here’s the best part, as written by Leann Wilcox:

The couple first met in the early 1980s, after being introduced by mutual friends. They did not reconnect until spring 2007, when Ms. Galereave’s daughter, Jasmine, then age 7, and Ms. Zeldes’s son, Jesse, then 6, began playing together at a potluck get-together for single lesbian mothers in Northampton. The moms and kids quickly became a foursome, sharing meals, games and adventures, but it was difficult for Ms. Galereave and Ms. Zeldes to find time alone, until the very last day of the year.

The couple had planned a holiday weekend getaway with the children to a friend’s house at Mount Sunapee in New Hampshire. On New Year’s Eve day, they took the children tubing in the snow for hours, with an ulterior motive to wear them out. Once back at their friend’s house for the evening, they set the clocks forward three hours, happily allowing Jasmine and Jesse to stay up until “midnight.”

Once the children fell asleep, Ms. Galereave and Ms. Zeldes celebrated New Year’s Eve with their first kiss.

“This New Year’s they’ll be staying up as late as they want,” Ms. Zeldes said of their children. Then she laughed and added, “We may not make it up till midnight.”

For the record, Kiki and Susan didn’t stay awake to ring in the New Year. And neither did Jesse and Jasmine.


December 29, 2011

Good Journalism: The Story of a Transgender Youth and Her Family

Earlier this month, The Boston Globe published a story that deserves special mention before resuming our holiday break.

The story starts by comparing identical twins, two boys who grew up with distinctly different personalities and interests. As Bella English writes:

Jonas was all boy. He loved Spiderman, action figures, pirates, and swords.

Wyatt favored pink tutus and beads. At 4, he insisted on a Barbie birthday cake and had a thing for mermaids. On Halloween, Jonas was Buzz Lightyear. Wyatt wanted to be a princess; his mother compromised on a prince costume.

You see where this is going. What makes it a must-share read is the family’s forthrightness in discussing the difficult decisions they made to ensure Wyatt, now 14 and named Nicole, is able to grow up in a world in which she feels loved, safe and welcomed.

Having read so many superficial or gee-whiz stories on transgender children and adults, this one will be remembered for its honesty and emotion, especially coming from Nicole’s father, Wayne, 53. Here’s just one example:

Last winter, Maine state representative Kenneth Fredette, a Republican from Penobscot County, sponsored a bill that would have repealed protections for transgender people in public restrooms, instead allowing schools and businesses to adopt their own policies. The bill was a response to the Maines’ 2009 lawsuit against the Orono School District.

Last spring Wayne and Nicole roamed the halls of the State House, button-holing legislators and testifying against the bill. “I’d be in more danger if I went into the boys bathroom,’’ Nicole told the lawmakers, who ultimately rejected the bill.

“She knows how to work a room,’’ her father says proudly. “She even convinced a cosponsor to vote the other way.’’

In October, the family was honored for its activism in helping defeat the transgender bathroom bill. The Maineses received the Roger Baldwin Award, named for a founder of the American Civil Liberties Union, from the Maine chapter of the ACLU.

Surrounded by Kelly and the kids, Wayne told the audience that he and his wife have had top-notch guides as they confronted the unknown.

“As a conventional dad, hunter, and former Republican, it took me longer to understand that I never had two sons,’’ he told them. “My children taught me who Nicole is and who she needed to be.’’

Go read the whole thing. And also see “What If Your Child Says, I’m In The Wrong Body?” — an NPR interview with endocrinologist Norman Spack, co-founder of the Children’s Hospital Gender Management Services Clinic at Boston’s Children’s Hospital. Spack has worked with 30 transgender youth (including Nicole) and their families on the emotional and medical issues, particularly in adolescence.

Gunner Scott and Craig Norberg-BohmPlus: In related news this year, the Massachusetts Legislature passed and the governor signed into law the Transgender Equal Rights Bill, extending civil rights and hate crimes protections to transgender residents of that state. At left is a photo of Gunner Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, an advocate of the bill, and Craig Norberg-Bohm, coordinator for the Men’s Initiative for Jane Doe.

Both men contributed to the new edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves“; Scott’s piece, an adaptation of his remarks at the Jane Doe organization’s White Ribbon Day rally in 2010, explains how violence against transgender people is related to violence against women.

Finally, we’re looking forward to hearing more in 2012 about the forthcoming book “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves,” a resource guide for the transgender population, covering health and legal issues, along with cultural and social questions, history and theory. Check out the list of contributors and topics.


November 28, 2011

Don’t Miss: Videos and Stories from OBOS’s 40th Anniversary Global Women’s Health Symposium

Did you miss the 40th Anniversary global women’s health symposium at Boston University back in October? If so — or if you just want to relive the day (yes, it was that awesome) — we’ve edited and posted videos from the symposium on YouTube. Take a look and feel free to post and share these presentations.

The list of speakers includes:

  • Byllye Avery, founder of the Avery Institute for Social Change and the National Black Women’s Health Project, on the impact of “Our Bodies, Ourselves.”
  • Adrienne Germain, president emerita of the International Women’s Health Coalition, on the challenges and opportunities for our health and human rights.
  • Sam Morgan Lilienfeld and Judah Rome, sons of OBOS founders Pamela Morgan and Esther Rome, on growing up with feminist mothers.
  • Sally Whelan, program director for the OBOS Global Initiative, discusses the efforts involved working with groups around the world that are adapting “Our Bodies, Ourselves” for their own communities.
  • Ayesha Chatterjee, program manager for the OBOS Global Initiative, introduces the organization’s global partners.
  • Loretta Ross, founder and national coordinator of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, delivers a rousing closing keynote filled with personal stories and political wisdom. Don’t miss this.

Plus there are welcomes by Massachusetts Gov. Patrick Deval, Robert Meenan, dean of the Boston University School of Public Health, and Judy Norsigian and Zobeida Bonilla, OBOS executive director and OBOS Latina health initiative coordinator. And it’s emceed by the one and only Jaclyn Friedman.

And, of course, there are the stories from OBOS’s global partners — women from Tanzania, Israel, Turkey, Senegal, Nepal, Japan, Puerto Rico, India, Bulgaria, Serbia and Armenia who shared their extraordinary journeys transforming “Our Bodies, Ourselves” into different texts and languages, sparking movements and change in their own countries. Along with U.S. participants — including myself and SPARK’s Dana Edell, they address the successes and challenges of the global women’s health movement in three panel discussions on YouTube.

Learn more about the symposium, which also celebrated the launch of the brand new edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” Even those of us who expected great things came away more emotionally overwhelmed (in a good way) than we could have imagined. Hearing how groups literally created words for women’s bodies that didn’t exist, or how they dealt with harassment, threats and other obstacles to sharing accurate information about women’s reproductive health and sexuality, are stories that stay with you. We hope these videos can be used to educate and inspire.

Here’s Byllye Avery on women’s health and self-knowledge before the publication of “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” It sets the stage for everything that happened (and will happen) as a result.