In the News?

I was gonna do a quickie today b/c there are some quick things like:

  • Cuban elections today – oh would that we didn’t already know the outcome of the vote . . .
  • Clinton says Obama lied in Ohio fliers; Obama says no factual errors – you can find a thorough article on H. Clinton’s support of NAFTA in a previous post.
  • The media is making Clinton look like “an angry shrew” over it, and yes one reporter whose name I missed, b/c I was out of the room, said that . . . sexism alive and well.
  • Still no major condemnation of Bill O’Reilly’s lynching comment – some people have actually excused it by saying “Well it’s Bill O’Reilly what do you expect?” I expect hate speech, particularly hate speech that might or does incite violence, to receive a zero tolerance policy. I expect that someone who mentions lynching a prominent African-American and wife of a presidential candidate to receive the same treatment as someone who questions whether the child of a presidential candidate is being “pimped out” or a radio announcer who calls people “nappy headed hos.” Oh wait, Imus is back on the air with a bigger paycheck, so I guess if I expect the latter, I got what I expected . . .
  • Turkey invades Iraq and no one is going to get them to back down according to the Turkish government
  • Sudan renews air strikes in Darfur – proving once and for all that George W. Bush dancing with Bushmen and going on safari will not bring an end to genocide . . . who knew?!?
  • U.S. evacuates personnel from Serbia and Kosovo. World leaders continue to back swift intervention to prevent genocidal violence (rightfully so).

But there are also non-quickie things to talk about today that you may not have seen in the news:

  • A Memorial for Brianna Dennison (see first lone piece below)
  • The murder of middle school student Lawrence King (second long piece below)

Brianna Dennison

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You may not have heard about Brianna Dennison if you don’t live in or near Nevada but you should have. A Santa Barbara City College student originally from Reno, Dennison was abducted from off-campus housing at the University of Nevada Reno while asleep. Her body was found in a field 10 miles from UN – Reno’s campus less than a month after the search for her began.

Besides the obvious fact that violence against women needs more attention these days, Dennison’s murder has two important aspects to it that should have elevated beyond local news: 1. she was abducted and killed by a serial rapist and 2. her body was found with the wrong clothes. Police believe that the same person who took Dennison may be responsible for 3 other attacks in the UN-Reno area. Thankfully, they alerted campus and women on campus have become hyper-vigiliant about their safety as a result.

Next to Dennison’s body was a pair of pink panther and hearts underwear that is not hers. Authorities hope the underwear belongs to a living victim. For me the story reminds me of the Juarez murders where young women were abducted, assaulted, killed and then left behind with other victim’s clothing to throw off police. Not only does this discarding of women’s bodies in this fashion confuse identification and cause general upset amongst the population, but it also demeans women one last time by implying that they are interchangeable objects for male depravity. As femicide grows across the region, evidenced in Mexico, Guatemala, and Canada, and by implication border zones like Texas, California, and Washington state to name a few places, it may be important to examine the patterns it takes in order to prevent future femicides.

I don’t wish to demean the specificities of violence in any of the communities suffering under femicide. Each one has a specific story that sheds light on globalization, localized racism and sexism, class antagonism, etc. Nor do I wish to imply that Nevada necessarily has to have similarities to its border town neighbors. Rather, I am arguing for a more sophisticated analysis of violence against women that might lead us toward change.

For its part, UN Reno has taken important steps to ensuring the safety of its students both mentally and physically. Discussions about Dennison’s death, the serial rapist, and the anxieties that come with it have been openly allowed during class time. Extra self-defense classes are being offered. And the campus in general has become a place where talk about gender oppression, particularly sexual assault, is sanctioned and encouraged by the administration outward.

As I read about all the women buying pepper spray, I suddenly flashed back on a conversation I had with my own students after several of them reported a strange man (a different strange man than my last post) lurking in the alleyways by where students generally park off campus. One of my smaller students had literally been picked up off the ground by her backpack by this man before managing to wriggle free. I held up my own mace, demonstrated its safety features for the parents or older siblings in the room, talked about its added protections (infared paint, deafening whistle button, etc.), and demonstrated its multiple uses (not just spray but also to clinch ones fist around like a roll of quarters, etc.). Then to bring some levity to the discussion I said, “For the low low prices of 19.95 you too can have one in designer colors.” My students laughed, tension dying down in the room almost instantly, but several later asked where to purchase the mace. It was the beginning of a very long conversation about safety and violence that moved well past stranger danger and galvanized many of them to take the gender inequality and becoming in how it works far more seriously. I am glad to see Reno has turned this tragedy into an opening for creating a campus wide version of this kind of consciousness-raising space.

Lawrence King

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15 year old Lawrence King, an 8th grader, was shot by a 14 year old classmate for coming out in his California middle school. A 2005 study of California schools found that middle schoolers were 3% more likely to experience homophobic harassment than their high school counterparts. While the Transgender Law Center says that middle school is increasingly becoming the place where kids come out. The two statistics point to an increasing awareness about sexuality and sexual identity but not a corresponding lessoning of heterosexism and homophobia.

Larry, as he is commonly known, had moved into a group foster home one year earlier, most likely also rejected by his family. Despite this familial isolation, he spent his Friday nights working with/attending Ventura County Rainbow Alliance queer youth meetings. Emboldened by his positive development and support there, Larry had also begun to wear make up, jewelry, and high heel boots to school. These changes are what his fellow classmates said started the teasing that became a regular part of his school life. Yet most of the students there remember him as a”bubbly” fun personality who they all enjoyed getting to know.
On Feb. 12, 2008, 14 year old Brandon McInerney walked into a 24 person computer lab and shot Larry in the head. He was declared brain dead the next day. McInerney will be tried as an adult and faces an additional sentence under fedearal hate crimes statutes which are being enforced. If convicted he will serve 52 to life.

As someone who has watched my queer students grow into bold wing & boot wearing divas in the course of a semester, my heart breaks at Larry’s story. I will never forget the proud way one of my students kicked his boots on the table during announcements and said “My announcement is I have damn cute boots” and how grumbling spread across the room as I responded “Well go ahead on girlfriend.” For them, as it seems for the Green Junior High Students, the transgression of gender was the visible straw that broke the homophobes back. It became a teachable moment but it was a struggle that stays with me.

You can show your solidarity and support safety by donating money in Larry’s name to any of the following organizations (these are places he accessed and not an official list – should such a list be generated I will let you know):

  • Casa Pacifica – where Larry was living
  • Ventura County Rainbow Alliance – They are asking that you give directly to the YEP program
  • Transgender Law Center – I’m not sure if he used these services but they have been part of the advocacy efforts for many harassed and killed youth in the past including providing legal services

I don’t know why neither of these stories got more air time, besides the obvious, but as always if you send me a story I will put it on the blog as well as keeping my own eyes and ears open.

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