Marriage argument in light of the plight of our brethren

Marriage argument
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Yesterday Massachusetts’ Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) attorney Mary Bonauto argued in favor of federal recognition of same-sex marriage before the Supreme Court. The very fact that this occurred is cause for celebration among the LGBTQA community. Ten or so years ago such an event would not have even been a consideration. After all, as equal marriage opponent Justice Anthony Scalia stated today in his challenge to Attorney Bonauto, before 2001 no country in the world had a law regarding same-sex marriage.

Yet, 40 miles away from Washington, D.C., a maelstrom was occurring. In the face of white-on-black police brutality, the city of Baltimore was imploding. Some of those among us who identify as both LGBTQA and another minority feel that the celebration is dampened. They assert that they should not have to choose between their identities – one in anticipated exuberance and the other in angst.

An important question is: Do we pay enough attention to the minority issues in our community, including its inequities in terms of which parts of the LGBTQA people are subject to violence, killings, homelessness, rate of communicable diseases such as HIV, and other issues? We can ask: Is the LGBTQA community aware of its position of privilege? Is it as inclusive as it can be in our definition of equality? Those who are members of multiple communities ask that the mainstream LGBTQA community examine its implicit biases. The NAACP is given as an example in coming out in favor of equality for all.

In the context of our celebration, we might ask ourselves – what can we do to ensure that no one’s issues get left behind? For each person this will be different. It depends on our ability in many senses of the word. For some, it might be joining a cause. For others, it might be having a conversation. In whatever way, we may ask ourselves – is what I’m doing enough? This question comes from many traditions. In the words of Rabbi Hillel, “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?” In the words of civil rights leaders Fannie Lou Hamer and Martin Luther King, Jr., “None of us is free until all of us are free.” Therefore, let us not wait, as in the poem by the German anti-Nazi, theologian and Lutheran pastor, Martin Niemöller, “…[when] they came for me, there was no one left to speak for me.” Let us celebrate together, work together, and fight together. We still have a long way to go!

Opinion by Aliza Baraka, in collaboration with Julian Moore, J.D.

Interview with Julian Moore, J.D.

Made By Raffi – A nontraditional theme, published worldwide

Made By Raffi
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“Made By Raffi” is a children’s book, by Craig Pomranz, inspired by a true-life incident, about a boy who is bullied by his classmates for being different and who becomes a hero for his skills, which are traditionally feminine. The nontraditional theme puts the book into a somewhat narrow classification.

What may come as a surprise is that the book was just published in Mandarin and in Korea. Moreover, a publisher in Turkey has expressed interest. In contrast, Southern U.S. newspapers have been reluctant to promote the book in southern Texas and Louisiana, saying that they felt it would not be accepted by the public.

What makes this book acceptable and potentially acceptable in former Communist and developing dictatorship regimes, and at the same time, not considered an option in a Democracy such as the U.S.? Some publishers have wondered if Raffi’s nontraditional gender role and the rainbow on the front cover of the book symbolize something more about his difference, hinting at him possibly being gay. That question is not answered.

The book initially focuses on the “normalcy” of Raffi’s life, showing his relationship with his mother, father and dog. It goes on to describe that he feels apart from other children, uncomfortable with loud interactions and horseplay, and content to sit quietly alone during recess.

However, Raffi questions his difference, asking why that might be. He then finds meaning in his separateness when a teacher teaches him how to knit as the other kids are playing on the playground. Raffi’s parents are very supportive of his interest, giving him the tools he needs to succeed.

book review
Raffi’s parents support him by buying him yarn for knitting.

Initially Raffi is teased by classmates for nontraditional gender expression. But in a turn of events, Raffi becomes a hero for his class when his fine motor skills of knitting – and sewing – are needed for design of a prop for the class play.

“Made by Raffi” has been published worldwide in seven languages and distributed in ten countries – in England, Australia, the U.S., Norway, Denmark, Italy, Taiwan, Korea, Belgium, and the Netherlands. The book has received accolades for promotion of appreciation across differences, beginning with the very young. According to Pomranz, his publicists “are always looking to find publishers around the world – those who will help to promote the book and its nontraditional theme.

“A publisher in Turkey loves ‘Made by Raffi,’ but said ‘The concept of childhood gender nonconformity is not a popular subject in Turkey.’” Nevertheless, he said he was passing it on to another publisher he thought might be doing more controversial books. In Taiwan, the focus became encouraging children to develop their interests. They added some activity pages towards this aim.

It should be noted that the book was published in Taiwan – not Mainland China – and in South Korea – not the North. North Korea was the subject of a report by the United Nations last year, which claimed that the Republic’s actions towards its citizens were comparable to those of the Nazi regime. At the time, China – North Korea’s closest ally – told the U.N. to “mind its own business.” Still, South Korea is a traditional and homogeneous society, and acceptance of Made by Raffi indicates a wind change, even if ever so slight.

Contemplation of the book’s publication in Turkey is significant in contrast to last year’s ban on the use of Twitter in that country. That prohibition brought a statement by the U.S. State Department about book burnings during the Nazi regime and the increasing isolation of Turkey. At that time, Turkish lawyers stated that this block was against the law and a direct confrontation against freedom of speech.

book review
Author Craig Pomranz

A question is raised as to whether southern Texas will have a change of heart regarding publicizing “Made by Raffi.” This is because Texas has lately seen a change on matters regarding gender and traditional roles. Known for its conservatism, Texas in 2005 approved a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage. The amendment campaign included a rally by Ku Klux Klan members. The decision was made by 76 percent of 17 percent statewide voter turnout. The result was reversed last year by a federal judge, stating that disallowing gays and lesbians to marry discredits their relationships.

“Made by Raffi” is a heartwarming tale of accepting differences. Despite its nontraditional theme, the book is gaining support in unlikely places for publication throughout the world. Perhaps the acceptance of Raffi’s interests – by his teacher, his parents, and eventually, his classmates and teacher – help to normalize nontraditional gender roles for children, and this is contributes to its universal appeal.

By Aliza Baraka

“Made by Raffi” (book), published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Bks (July 29, 2014) and illustrated by Margaret Chamberlain
Personal interview with Craig Pomranz
North Korea as Bad as Nazis Says UN and China Says to Bug Off
Turkey Twitter Ban Recalls Books in the U.S. and Google in China
Texas LGBT Community Hopes for Big Win

Starvation is preventable: To save one life

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Starvation is preventable in much of the world, serving as a reminder of the Talmudic teaching, “to save one life is to save the world.” Lily is a 31-year-old woman living in a remote village in Guatemala with earthen floors and no walls. She and her two children, ages 7 and 1, are living in starvation conditions. She is among the more than 1 billion people globally who are malnourished, consuming fewer than the minimum number of essential calories.

Undernourishment causes a negative effect on health, sense of hope, productivity, and general well-being. Without sufficient food, energy is sapped and thinking is slowed, among other factors.

StarvationLily is Maria’s biological mother. Lily was 21, unmarried, and living with a physically abusive boyfriend when Maria was born in 2005. Maria was adopted by a couple in the U.S.

Because Lily had to work as a housecleaner in order to have income, and she had no one with whom to leave the baby, she relinquished the baby for adoption. By Guatemalan law, she received no remuneration, although the baby received excellent prenatal care.

Some who have heard Lily’s story ask why she does not get a job to lift herself out of poverty. Others ask why she chooses to have children that she cannot feed.

In Guatemala, the many years of ongoing discrimination against the Mayan people by those of European descent (ladinos) has led to Mayan anxiety towards modern medical care. They suffered brutal treatment for many years. During the 36-year Guatemalan armed conflict from 1960 to 1996, government troops annihilated 440 indigenous villages.

Deep-rooted ethnic discrimination in Guatemala has fueled many atrocities. Even after the conflict ended, distrust runs high against the ladino government, and this causes Mayan women to hesitate to seek health care services at government-run facilities. Indigenous people are particularly suspicious of government-run family planning programs, which many perceive as part of a ladino “plot” to diminish the indigenous population.

There are many factors that lead to Lily’s circumstances: Lily’s spirit is crushed due to unrelenting poverty, which has led to her illnesses, currently being treated through financial assistance: Helicobacter Pylori, parasites, malnutrition, and depression.

Lily cannot read and is unable to speak the dominant language, Spanish. Her mother died when she was ten years old. She had no source for learning about pregnancy prevention. Moreover, her children are all the resources she has in the world.

To save Lily’s life, and prevent the starvation of her family will take a series of steps that have been outlined by the doctors whom she saw through medical intervention last week.

Of the five causes contributing to world hunger, at least four of them directly affect Lily: These are lack of resources to grow or buy food, historical armed conflict in the region, discrimination of the indigenous in Guatemala, and powerlessness in society.

In Guatemalan rural areas, the level of chronic malnutrition is 52 percent. The situation of children exposed to violence and sexual abuse in Guatemala is dramatic.

In the villages, there are more than 20 recognized native Mayan peoples, identified by their regions and their languages. In Guatemala, the Mayans constitute a majority of the population. There is a vast difference between the current education and health care status of the Mayans and the ladinos. Many factors play into this, including culture, history (which encompasses a degree of trust of outsiders – anyone outside of the specific Mayan group), family finances, and skills.

Indigenous girls are the most disadvantaged group in Guatemala. They lead lives characterized by chronic poverty, social isolation, limited schooling, early marriage, frequent childbearing, and cycles of violence.

Readers may think that it is the government’s responsibility to care for its people. Building the health, economic, and social resources of this large, neglected group is both a moral impera¬tive and essential for reaching the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of 2015 in Guatemala. However, currently, there is very little incentive for real change in the Guatemalan government, where the majority of the power is in the hands of the few.

Globally, women’s work comprises two-thirds of working hours and women produce half of the world’s food. Yet, women earn only 10 percent of the world’s income. They own less than one percent of property globally.

When women farmers can access the resources they need, their production increases, making it less likely that their families are hungry and malnourished. When women own property and earn money from it, they may have more bargaining power at home. Economic empowerment allows women to raise healthier, better educated families. Empowerment of women allows them to become stronger leaders and to more effectively contribute financially to their families, communities and countries.

Readers may think that their contributing to one woman in such a situation may have only minimal effect. A campaign for Lily’s medical care is being maintained on the crowdsourcing site, GoFundMe. Through this source, Lily has received medical attention this past week for herself and her one-year-old daughter. The next needs for short-term assistance include food on her prescribed restricted diet, medicine, psychological care, and maxillofacial dental care.

The administrators of GoFundMe are aware that in order for Lily’s condition to change, long-term efforts must meet certain conditions: They must address the root causes, be sustainable (paying for themselves), and be implemented by the people directly and locally affected. Therefore, long-term solutions would include firsthand assessment of the situation and purchase of land so that Lily can plant seeds or have animals for food and income. This will save her life and lead to solutions, preventing her family from starvation.

Letter by Aliza Baraka

Olivia’s Medical Care in Guatemala
Primary education for girls and literacy of women and girls in Guatemala
World Hunger Facts
Personal conversations with Dr. William Paredes, OB/GYN, Zacapa, Guatemala and Marta Diaz, Medser Alliance for Health and Well-Being (Medical Services) Guatemala
2011 UNICEF Humanitarian Action for Children
Global Poverty Info Bank
International Center for Research on Women (ICRW)
Las Cuatro Culturas
Photo courtesy of John BarrieFlickr license

South Africa Apartheid Leader de Kock on Parole

South Africa
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A death squad leader in the South African apartheid, Eugene de Kock, was granted parole Thursday. This comes 20 years after initially being jailed for his role in the murder of activists protesting against white minority rule during the 1980s and 1990s.

South Africa
Justice Minister Michael Masutha

The reason for de Kock’s release, according to Justice Minister Michael Masutha, was “in the interest of nation-building.” He emphasized that this decision is in accordance with South Africa’s constitution. This brings to the forefront the struggle that South Africa has in balancing justice with reconciliation.

The release of the 66-year-old comes after his sentencing in 1996 to two life prison terms. De Kock, nicknamed “Prime Evil,” had also been sentenced to an additional 212 years for his crimes. There is much controversy surrounding the release of Mr. de Kock. For this reason, the location and timing would not be made public.

Families of slain victims had mixed responses to the news. Some felt that it was right to move on, letting de Kock go on parole, and in so doing, “a chapter could be closed.” Some family members spoke of reconciliation and the need to focus on rebuilding South Africa.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of the 1990s was an effort to promote unity after the divisiveness and trauma of apartheid. The granting of amnesty, in some cases, was part of this effort.

At his 1995 trial before the TRC, one year after the first democratic elections in South Africa, de Kock confessed to more than 100 acts of torture, murder, and fraud. He took full responsibility for the actions committed by the Vlakplaas police, his notorious undercover unit.

The unit, based on a farm near the capital Pretoria, conducted some of the most horrific crimes during the apartheid era. Their trademark murders, which used explosives, would both kill the victim and destroy the evidence of the death.

One of the key factors in South African apartheid leader de Kock’s parole is that he has expressed remorse for his deeds. Some critics, however, express strongly that because he was ruthless in his brutality, he does not deserve mercy. They say that he should spend the rest of his life in prison.

In the TRC hearings, de Kock recounted murders of African National Congress (ANC) members in other countries, including Angola, Lesotho, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe. The police commander above him was complicit in all of these crimes. However, de Kock is the only one who was charged with the crimes. The others are living in freedom.

De Kock took some actions while in prison that have influenced the reactions of victims’ families as well as his release on parole. In 2007, he did a radio interview, accusing the last white ruler of South Africa, FW de Klerk, of ordering specific killings. He said that President de Klerk “had blood on his hands.” This accusation was denied by the former president.

Justice Minister Masutha also said that de Kock has been helpful to the National Prosecuting Authority’s Missing Persons Task Team in recovering the remains of some of his victims. While in prison, de Kock also reached out to victims’ families. He asked them for his forgiveness.

Another former official within the apartheid era, Clive Derby-Lewis, has not been granted parole. He had been convicted in the assassination of Chris Hani, but has not shown remorse in the way that de Kock had expressed. Moreover, Derby-Lewis has medical reasons – undergoing chemotherapy for stage three lung cancer – that caused the Medical Parole Advisory Board to deny his release.

The actions as well as the parole of South African apartheid leader Eugene de Kock have been met with mixed response. A former employee of the South African Council of Churches spoke out. He had worked there when the Church headquarters were bombed in 1988 and said that South Africans are accustomed to having mixed feelings.

By Aliza Baraka


BBC, News Africa
The New York Times
Eyewitness News

Photo courtesy of United NationsFlickr license