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03 December 2011

Repudiation: Wisconsin Steps Back from Protecting Gays in the Workplace

Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin seems to be doing everything he can to undermine fairness in Wisconsin.  He went after public employee unions, voting rights, comprehensive sex education, women's reproductive rights, and now the LGBTQ Community.

In March, Governor Walker appointed Laurie McCallum to the Wisconsin Labor and Industry Review Commission (LIRC).  She is one of a three person board who serve staggered six year terms.  Ms. McCallum is the wife of former Republican Wisconsin Governor Scott McCallum, who had first served as Lt. Gov. under Tommy Thompson.  Ms. McCallum is an attorney who has been employed by Wisconsin for over three decades.

The LIRC, among its other duties, determines discrimination claims.  Last month they heard the case of Chris Bowen who complained that suffered discrimination while an employee of Stroh Precision Die Casting.  This was reported in the Wisconsin Gazette.
In a 2-1 decision, commissioners Robert Glaser and Ann L. Crump found that Stroh was responsible for fostering a workplace environment hostile to Bowen because of his sexual orientation. Stroh did not deny that the harassment occurred; nor did the company argue that anti-gay harassment is allowed under state law during the eight years that the case bounced around the court system.
But McCallum, the politically connected wife of former GOP Gov. Scott McCallum, defied nearly 30 years of precedent in state law by asserting that sexual “preference,” as she put it, is not a protected category in workplace discrimination cases.
With this as an example of Walker appointments, the LGBTQ Community in Wisconsin has reason to recall Mr. Walker.  If he is not recalled, he will appoint another member of the LIRC, giving a majority view that discrimination of gays in the workplace is perfectly legal.  The discrimination described by Mr. Bowen, again from the Wisconsin Gazette article, was not trivial.

The court record showed that a group of Bowen’s co-workers repeatedly called him “fag,” “maricon” and “my little bitch,” among other slurs, over a period of years. Bowen once found a bulls-eye hunting target over which the word “gay” was written stuck to his toolbox. Someone put a sign that said, “queer” or “queen” on his locker. A sticker was put in his workplace that said, “Honk if you’re gay.”
In a statement that was excluded as evidence at Bowen’s administrative hearing, co-worker Kathryn Corroo said, “I witnessed the sexual harassment against Chris Bowen, especially during February 2002 through May 2002 by (co-employees) Tom Meier, Rick Hafemeister, David Lepke, Jesse Manhardt and Rose McGee.  … I heard Tom Meier say that Chris was not in a very good mood and that maybe it was because he (Chris) didn’t get a apiece (sic) of ass over the weekend at Pridefest, the day after the weekend of Pridefest. I heard Rick Hafemeister make comments to Chris and myself about how all nigers (sic) and queers, etc. ... (sic) should be put in a big hole and shot. And get rid of them all.”
The Wisconsin Gazette article continues with more along the same lines.

Harassment is wrong.  What Mr. Bowen put up with for years at work was wrong.  That Ms. McCallum finds this acceptable for the workplace, as evidenced by her dissenting vote, is not reasonable.  Mr. Walker really needs to be removed from office to give Wisconsin a chance to return to its progressive roots.

Praise: Study on Reducing Prejudice

A study of techniques to reduce prejudice from the Association for Psychological Science shows promise of modifying normal human reactions.

Evolutionary psychologists suspect that prejudice is rooted in survival: Our distant ancestors had to avoid outsiders who might have carried disease. Research still shows that when people feel vulnerable to illness, they exhibit more bias toward stigmatized groups. But a new study in Psychological Science, a journal published by the Association for Psychological Science suggests there might be a modern way to break that link.

“We thought if we could alleviate concerns about disease, we could also alleviate the prejudice that arises from them,” says Julie Y. Huang of the University of Toronto, about a study she conducted with Alexandra Sedlovskaya of Harvard University; Joshua M. Ackerman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Yale University’s John A. Bargh. The group found that the sense of security derived through measures such as vaccination and hand washing can reduce bias against “out” groups, from immigrants to the obese.
It is a tall order to leap from curing mysophobia, the fear of germs, to curing xenophobia, the fear of foreigners.
The study—which is unique in uniting evolutionary psychology, social cognitive psychology, and public health—holds promise for reducing physical and social maladies at once. Write the authors, a public health intervention like vaccination or hand washing could be a “modern treatment for [an] ancient affliction.”
 Perhaps this is a first step toward a cure of homophobia as well?  One can always hope.

Praise: Penn Jillette on the 2012 Election

While I am not an atheist, I have said before that I am Jewish, I do believe in listening to those who have differing beliefs.  Penn Jillette presents an Atheist's Guide to the 2012 Election and his views are not what I was expecting.  No appearance by Mr. Teller.  Mr. Jillette is neither angry nor funny in his twenty minute monologue, which I encourage you to enjoy.  A few words are NSFW.

Thanks to Joe My God for the heads up.

02 December 2011

Repudiation: Renewed Calls for Abstinence-Only Sex Ed

Just two days ago I wrote in praise of an excellent study disproving the efficacy of abstinence-only sex education.  But facts do not appear to matter when religion dictates.

One News Now has the first part of an article by Michael Brown, the founder of a "Messianic" ministry.  (The purpose of his ministry is to bring Jews to Jesus).  Mr. Brown also has a long history of animosity toward the LGBTQ Community.

Skipping past the fiction (Mr. Brown admits he is making it up) at the start of the article, Mr. Brown writes
In October of this year, New York City announced an aggressive, comprehensive, and quite graphic curriculum that would consist of one full semester of sex education in 6th or 7th grade (meaning, beginning with kids as young as 11) and again in 9th and 10th grade. Yet the age of consent in New York is 17.
This means that these schools (along with thousands of other schools throughout the nation) are giving children practical instructions on having sex even though it is illegal for them to do so. (If my suggested drug analogy doesn't work for you, then think in terms of the schools teaching 12-year-olds about responsible drinking of alcohol, since later in life, it will be legal for them but to do so at their current age is currently illegal.)
Comprehensive sex education is what works.  Again, look back at the University of Georgia study.  It is not illegal for the schools to offer comprehensive sex ed.  What is not legal is for children to participate in sexual activity as they do not fall into the category of consenting adults.  Of course, pretending that all children will wait until they are adults to enjoy sex is a fantasy.
It can even be argued that, on some level, these schools fail to do everything in their power to prevent statutory rape, since in New York, it is "second-degree rape for anyone age 18 or older to engage in sexual intercourse with someone under age 15," and that is certainly what is happening with many of these kids. Either way, the activities are illicit, be they consensual acts between 13-year-olds or consensual acts between an 18-year-old and a 14-year-old.
No.  Informing students about sex is not the same as statutory rape.  Information helps students avoid rape and, if violated, empowers them to fight back later.
How, then, can the schools teach anything other than abstinence? Why are they teaching our children about "safe sex"?
Because ignorance does not work.  Comprehensive sex education has a better track record.
A New York health department report in 2005 revealed that one in ten youngsters reported having sex before the age of 13. As shocking as that statistic is, it also means that 90 percent of these kids did not have sex before that age -- begging the question: Why introduce them to all these sexually charged (and often sexually titillating) issues?
First, we are in agreement that ten percent of children having sex before the age of thirteen is shocking.  In fact, the problem may be even more serious that Mr. Brown discusses.  From page 3 of NYC Vital Signs, 2007, twenty-six percent of girls who became pregnant and boys who impregnated girls while underage had their first sexual experience before the age of thirteen.

The question is not whether to introduce children to sexual information but whether to give them appropriate information that may help them postpone sexual activity and pregnancy until they are adults.  In terms of titillation, sex education classes are not pornography seminars, despite whatever Mr. Brown might be thinking.
I am fully aware that many of these kids are anything but "innocent," being exposed to sexual issues a hundred different ways every single day, among their peers, through the media, and online. But I have no doubt that many of our schools could do a much better job of pointing them towards morality more than encouraging then to have "safe sex." (If you say that the schools have no business teaching our kids morality, why then are they teaching them immorality, or at the least, condoning immorality?)
Comprehensive sex education does not involve encouraging then [sic] to have "safe sex".  The premise of Mr. Brown's argument is flawed. 
Returning to the new curriculum being introduced in New York City, the New York Post reported that some of the workbooks include these assignments (as you read this, ask yourself if this will encourage or discourage teen and pre-teen sex; what follows is extremely graphic, even for adults):
- High-school students go to stores and jot down condom brands, prices and features such as lubrication.

- Teens research a route from school to a clinic that provides birth control and STD tests, and write down its confidentiality policy.

- Kids ages 11 and 12 sort "risk cards" to rate the safety of various activities, including "intercourse using a condom and an oil-based lubricant,'' mutual masturbation, French kissing, oral sex and anal sex.

- Teens are referred to resources such as Columbia University's website Go Ask Alice, which explores topics like "doggie-style" and other positions, "sadomasochistic sex play," phone sex, oral sex with braces, fetishes, porn stars, vibrators and bestiality.
The first three assignments make sense to me.  These should be understood as part of a whole, not as isolated assignments.  The combination of these activities help students to understand that just using a condom is not a guarantee of not creating a baby because condoms can break, particularly if used in conjunction with the wrong other materials or if worn incorrectly.  Learning about various risks is crucial to the health of our next generation.

I've only looked at the top page of Go Ask Alice, which features Q&A for students.  This means that if a student asks a question on a topic that offends Mr. Brown, they are likely to get an answer.  In the words of Columbia University, Go Ask Alice! answers questions about relationships; sexuality; sexual health; emotional health; fitness; nutrition; alcohol, nicotine, and other drugs; and, general health.
Is it any comfort to parents that the Department of Education still encourages abstinence as the best choice? As noted by child and adolescent psychiatrist Miriam Grossman in the NY Post article, "Kids are being told to either abstain or use condoms -- that both are responsible, healthy choices." She also notes "that the [text]books minimize the dangers that pregnancy can still occur with condom use, and that viruses such as herpes and HPV live on body parts not covered by a condom."
As an educator, I am well aware that if I prohibit students from doing something there will be rebels among my students who will do that which is prohibited because I said not to do so.  Again, the data shows that comprehensive sex ed is more effective than abstinence-only.  Ms. Grossman appears to be reasonable in an otherwise hysterical article at the NY Post.
According to a staggering report released by the Centers for Disease Control in 2008, at least one in four teenage girls has a sexually transmitted disease, which means that, at best, the schools are teaching the students how to have less risky sex, similar to playing Russian roulette with fewer bullets.
Sorry, Mr. Brown, you have it upside down.  Not empowering students with solid information is what is similar to playing Russian roulette.  Pretending that just telling students don't will suffice is foolish.

01 December 2011

Praise: University of Copenhagen on Optimal HIV Treatment

Very good news at the University of Copenhagen.
Researchers who have been following Danish HIV patients for more than fifteen years now see that the patients may live as long as other Danes if they take their medicine.
Among other items on the linked page are data regarding the source of HIV infection (from 2010).

 Homosexual  102 (44,2 %)
 Heterosexual  107 (46,3 %)
 Shared syringe
 among drug users
   4 (1,7 %) 
 Haemophilia and
 blood transfusion
  1 (0,4 %) 
 Morther-child infection   0 (0 %)
Other  16 (9,6 %) 

This data shows that despite what the anti-equality groups are saying, HIV-AIDS is not just a gay disease.

The data in Denmark implies that longevity for those with HIV requires early diagnosis and regular medication.  It should give those elsewhere hope as well.

Praise: Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative

While my last two posts cover hopeful efforts, there is a huge amount to be done still.  The following press release from the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative is heartbreaking but important information.  It was released with permission to share.

[Geneva, Switzerland/New York, USA - 1 December 2011]
Children with HIV/AIDS Falling Through the Cracks of Treatment Scale-Up Efforts
Less than one-quarter (23%) of children with HIV/AIDS who need treatment are getting it, according to a report released by the World Health Organization (WHO) on the occasion of World AIDS Day (1 December 2011). Although treatment coverage for adults has been steadily climbing and has now reached approximately half of those in need, coverage for children is lagging far behind, highlighted the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi), a non-profit research and development organization that has recently launched a new paediatric HIV drug development programme.

‘Children with HIV/AIDS are falling through the cracks’, said Dr Bernard Pécoul, Executive Director of the DNDi. ‘250,000 children died of HIV-related complications in 2010 – that’s nearly 700 each day. This is simply unacceptable.’

There are several reasons for this situation – including lack of access for pregnant women to antenatal care, HIV testing, and antiretrovirals (ARVs) to prevent mother-to-child transmission and treat expecting mothers, as well as difficulties diagnosing HIV in infants.  But one of the most important, and overlooked, is the lack of suitable formulations of ARVs adapted for children, particularly babies and toddlers. The reason for this neglect lies, ironically, with the success of the virtual elimination of HIV among newborns in wealthy countries.

‘There’s little profit to be made from developing treatments for the millions of children with HIV/AIDS, 90% of whom are the poorest of the poor in sub-Saharan Africa, and the lack of market incentive means pharmaceutical companies do not develop ARVs adapted to their needs’, Dr Pécoul continued. ‘Without treatment, half of the children born with HIV die before their second birthday.’ 

WHO recommends immediate ART for all HIV-positive children less than two years old, but the safety and correct dosing have not been established in very young children for the majority of ARVs approved for adults. In addition, key existing paediatric ARV formulations taste bad, require impractical multiple liquid preparations and refrigeration, and have undesirable interactions with tuberculosis (TB) drugs.

DNDi’s new paediatric HIV programme aims to develop an improved first-line therapy for children under three years of age. Ideally, this ARV combination therapy needs to be easy to administer and better tolerated by children than current drugs, as well as heat stable and easily dispersible (dissolvable in water or breast milk). It must also carry minimal risk for developing resistance and require minimum weight adjustments. Finally, any new formulations must be compatible with TB drugs.

‘Given the current funding crisis, we are deeply concerned that children with HIV/AIDS – who are already invisible and largely voiceless – will fall even further down on the agenda’, said Dr Marc Lallemant, Head of DNDi’s Paediatric HIV Programme. ‘And while everything possible needs to be done to achieve the long-term goal of “eliminating“ new infections among infants, including through scale-up of prevention of mother-to-child transmission programmes, a more serious response is urgently needed for HIV-positive children today.’


DNDi is a not-for-profit research and development organization working to deliver new treatments for neglected diseases, in particular human African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness), leishmaniasis, Chagas disease, malaria, and, with the recent expansion of its portfolio, specific helminth infections, and paediatric HIV. DNDi was established in 2003 by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation from Brazil, the Indian Council of Medical Research, the Kenya Medical Research Institute, the Ministry of Health of Malaysia, and the Pasteur Institute of France. The Special Programme for Tropical Disease Research (TDR) serves as a permanent observer. Since 2003, DNDi has delivered five new treatments for neglected patients with malaria, sleeping sickness, and visceral leishmaniasis.

Media contact:

Oliver Yun, Communications Manager
DNDi North America (New York)
Mobile: +1.646.266.5216
Tel: +1.646.616.8681

Violaine Dällenbach, Press and Communications Manager
DNDi (Geneva)
Mobile: +41.79.424.1474
Tel: +41.22.906.92 47

Praise: CDC and "Testing Makes Us Stronger" Campaign

World AIDS Day 2011.

The Center for Disease Control is taking proactive measures to help slow the spread of HIV.  The Testing Makes Us Stronger Campaign is focused on "Encouraging Black Gay and Bisexual Men to Take a Stand Against HIV".

It is good to have the White House on our side.