Posts from February 2002

End Sexual Misconduct in Alabama Prisons

I gave this speech on 28 February 2002 at the Alabama capitol building in Montgomery, as part of a press conference held by Amnesty International USA and Alabama state Representative Barbara Boyd (D-Anniston), in support of Boyd’s House Bill 136, which outlawed sexual conduct and harassment by guards in Alabama prisons.

In a society where men sexually assault one out of every five women, where rape and the threat of rape keep women in a state of fear, what can we do to defend the fundamental human rights of women and girls?

What can we do today, for women and girls who do not have time to wait for things to be fixed? What can we do right now for women’s human rights in Alabama?

Right now, the Alabama legislature has a choice to make. Right now, Alabama is one of only four states where there is no law protecting prison inmates from custodial sexual misconduct. Right now, there are over 1,700 female inmates in Alabama prisons. Most of them are guarded by male corrections officers in violation of international correctional standards. Because there are no legal protections against custodial sexual misconduct, women in Alabama prisons have been subjected to sexual extortion, rape, and other abuse by members of the correctional staff to whom they are entrusted.

Rape is a crime of power. It happens when the rapist wants power over his victim, and uses power to force sex. More than any other institution, the prison is a place in which the agents of the state are entrusted with power over other people. With that power must come responsibility.

Most people who are entrusted with this power do not abuse it. Most men would never even consider committing a sexual assault. But we must create an environment in which those who do abuse their power are held responsible. Without legal protections against custodial sexual misconduct, those few who do choose to abuse their power over inmates inflict suffering on their victims that can only be described as a form of torture.

Young people, students such as myself, have been taking the initiative all across Alabama to work against sexual violence. We have volunteered to support rape crisis centers and peer education groups to raise awareness and support the survivors of sexual violence. Through student government and activist groups, we have put our energies into improving safety on our own campuses. And now it is time for the legislature to take up the struggle with us. Last month, Representative Barbara Boyd introduced House Bill 136, which would finally enforce legal accountability for officers who abuse their power over inmates through sexual violence. We are one of only four states without such a law. For Alabama to fully protect the human rights of women, the legislature must approve this bill, as one more step in the fight against sexual violence, one more step in the struggle for women’s fundamental human rights.

Moore’s Defenders Should Think Twice

Everyone’s favorite local Right-wing crank, Malcolm Cutchins, published a column in February 2002 supporting Roy Moore’s outrageous, homophobic concurring opinion in Ex parte H.H., even though Cutchins said he had never taken the time to actually read the opinion. The problem, Cutchins informed us, was the homosexual bloc, which he went on to compare to East German Communists and the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center. I wrote a letter in response quoting Moore’s opinion verbatim, and asking if Malcolm Cutchins still stood by Chief Justice Moore. I have yet to receive an answer.

Editors, Opelika-Auburn News:

Since Malcolm Cutchins’ most recent column compared the homosexual bloc to Communists, Nazis, and modern-day terrorists, I have little doubt that Cutchins would have approved of Roy Moore’s words, had he read the decision. Moore wrote:

Homosexual behavior is a ground for divorce, an act of sexual misconduct punishable as a crime in Alabama, a crime against nature, an inherent evil, and an act so heinous that it defies one’s ability to describe it.

And also:

The State carries the power of the sword, that is, the power to prohibit conduct with physical penalties, such as confinement and even execution. It must use that power to prevent the subversion of children toward this lifestyle, to not encourage a criminal lifestyle.

Take a moment and read back over that. The Chief Justice of our state’s Supreme Court argued that the state is fully within its prerogatives to imprison and execute gay people in order to protect children from their evil influences.

Those of us who are not so enthusiastic about concentration camps and a Final Solution to the homosexual question, have understandably been upset by Moore’s statement.

Many of the homophobes trying to recruit children into their lifestyle have used overt threats such as Moore’s, and violence, as in the murder of Billy Jack Gaither, to terrorize gay youth and force any evidence of gay life back into the closet. They even want homophobia brought into schools, threatening any teacher who doesn’t tell kids that anti-gay bigotry is the only valid lifestyle.

Now that he has read Moore’s bloody-minded words, will Malcolm Cutchins be any different? Or will he continue to stand with the homophobic bloc, threatening and demonizing peaceful people asking for nothing more than a life of their own, free of fear and violence?

Charles W. Johnson
Auburn

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Here in Alabama, there’s been very good news, and there’s been very bad news, on the front of gay liberation and the struggle against anti-queer bigotry.

Chief Justice Roy Moore

The State carries the power of the sword… It must use that power to prevent the subversion of children toward this lifestyle —Roy Moore, Chief Justice, Alabama Supreme Court

First the bad news. In a recent Alabama state Supreme Court decision, the court ruled unanimously to deny custody of three children to their mother, who alleged that the father was physically abusing them. The majority of the opinion of the court stated that higher courts had impermissibly reweighed evidence already considered in the lower court on the question of abuse, and thus the mother had not sufficiently met the burden of proving that the children were at risk of abuse. I disagree with this opinion, given what I know about family violence, but this was merely an issue of how much evidence had been produced.

With that majority opinion going on the books, Good Ol’ Roy Moore, the Chief Jackass of the Alabama Supreme Court, decided that he had to go out of his way to write a concurring opinion. You see, the mother is now living in a lesbian relationship in southern California. And ol’ Roy Moore (perhaps better known as The Ten Commandments Judge) just couldn’t pass up such a ripe opportunity to use his bully pulpit to screech virulent hatred against Alabama’s queer citizens.

Homosexual behavior, Moore opines, is a ground for divorce, an act of sexual misconduct punishable as a crime in Alabama, a crime against nature, an inherent evil, and an act so heinous that it defies one’s ability to describe it.

Oh, but it only gets better. Moore continues:

photo: Roy Moore

Chief Justice Roy Moore

The Lord is my Camouflage

Führer-in-Waiting (Ralph Reed) Acrylic on paper, 24″ x 21.25″. ©1997 Lilith Adler.

The State carries the power of the sword, that is, the power to prohibit conduct with physical penalties, such as confinement and even execution. It must use that power to prevent the subversion of children toward this lifestyle, to not encourage a criminal lifestyle. (p. 36 of decision, emphasis added)

Take a moment and read back over that. The Chief Justice of my state’s Supreme Court just argued that the State is fully within its legal and moral prerogatives to imprison and execute queer people in order to "protect" children from their evil influences. Thank God Moore was not writing for the majority of the Court — if this bullshit had the weight of legal precedent in Alabama, we might see the pink triangle marks and the concentration camps coming around the corner any day now.

Of course, Moore’s outrageous remarks have not gone unchallenged. State Representative Alvin Holmes (D-Montgomery) has requested an investigation of Moore by the Alabama Judicial Inquiry for violations of three parts of Provision 2 of the Alabama Canon of Judicial Ethics [Montgomery Advertiser], calling on Moore to resign and confronting him with the possibility of being removed from office. Equality Begins at Home Alabama has also called for Moore’s resignation and is sponsoring events responding to the hateful decision.

In spite of all of this, there is good news. It may seem very small, and yet I believe that it’s more important than anything that ignorant asshole Roy Moore ever said in his life. According to the Opelika-Auburn News, 17 year old Allen Jeffers will be attending his Opelika High School senior prom with his boyfriend, the first time there has ever been a same-sex date included in the OHS prom.

No matter how small it may seem in comparison to the sturm und drang of state judicial politics, it is exactly this kind of everyday, local victory for acceptance and welcoming of queer people into our community that we ultimately need to win against the bigoted demagogues such as Roy Moore. I remember graduating from Auburn High School, just across town from OHS, just three years ago, and this just would have been completely unimaginable. Just being openly gay in the face of the whole school would have been completely unimaginable. Thank God for Allen Jeffers’ courage and the slow, hard work of making the queer community visible and, eventually, overcoming bigotry and creating a welcoming community in Alabama. I firmly believe that if we can keep up this work, bigots like Roy Moore haven’t got a prayer.

Take action! For more on actions being taken against Chief Justice Moore’s bigotry, check out Equality Begins at Home’s pages on what is happening now and what you can do to help. If you are in the Auburn area, Auburn Gay and Lesbian Association meets every Monday at 7:30pm to work for a supportive community for queer people in Auburn-Opelika, and to defend queer people from anti-gay discrimination and violence. Human Rights Watch also has a good page on what you can do to build safe, supportive schools for queer youth.

For further reading:

  • GT 8/03/2001 Anti-Queer Terrorism in Our Schools
  • GT 8/11/2001 Gay Rights Activists Get the Grassroots Religion
  • GT 8/07/2001 Religious Right Wants to Write Homophobia into U.S. Constitution
  • GT 5/05/2001 Religious Right Attacks Queer Students’ Safety in Washington Schools
  • GT 4/18/2001 Homophobic State Representative Tells All to Gay Activists in Florida
  • GT 4/11/2001 World’s First Queer Marriages Celebrated in Netherlands
  • Geekery Today documents anti-queer terrorism in Hawaii, Pennsylvania, and Nashville

Update 2005-05-15: Minor changes for style.

Possible Worlds in Memphis

The Mid-South Philosophy Conference at the University of Memphis was a pretty decent time. The quality of papers was really uneven–an entire keynote address was based around a confusion of concepts in the psychological and concepts in the logical sense, and can someone tell me what exactly is the point of a paper on whether Hegel intends to release the owl of Minerva at dusk or midnight? (No, I am not making that up or paraphrasing.)

On the other hand, there was lots of really good stuff, including some excellent papers on the relationship between will and action and reconstructing identity politics. There was also a good mix of Analytic and Continental perspectives, and healthy participation in the undergraduate conference. Oh, and Memphis is absolutely beautiful in the late winter/early Spring weather we had this weekend.

One note for those organizing undergraduate conferences, however: assigning commentators on undergraduate papers would be a very good thing. At a lot of the undergraduate sessions the participants were very timid about asking questions. Having some pre-prepared commentator questions might help kick-start discussion of the paper.

I presented a slightly condensed version of my paper on representative art and modal metaphysics, True Fictions, the Problem of Evil, and Impossible Worlds.

The Voice of Protest Grows Louder…

In only two days the number of participants in the protest of the nominations of George W. Bush and Tony Blair for the Nobel Peace Prize has surged to over 2,200, more than doubling the count in only 2 days. I haven’t even seriously promoted this campaign in the past 5 or 6 days. Back then I posted it to some IndyMedia sites, sent it out to a couple of mailing lists, and let it take off from there. It’s things like these which really affirm my faith in the potential of the Internet as a space for democratic political transformation. Tapping into these grassroots networks for an email protest campaign is only a small step, but the important thing is the amount of real popular power that we are beginning to be able to manifest. These networks we are developing — informal and formal, organized and loosely affiliated — are important. I honestly believe that much of the hope for the future lies in our ability to maintain these networks online, expand them and make them more inclusive, and translate them into organization and action, on and offline.

Take action! Urge the Nobel Prize committee to reject the nomination of George W. Bush and Tony Blair!

For further reading: