Human Rights

Solutions Are Available But Will We Pay Attention?

“Every once in a while, a dramatic news story can actually produce real reform. More often the momentum peters out once the story disappears from the news (remember how Sandy Hook meant we were going to get real gun control?), but it can happen. And now, after the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missiouri, turned to a chaotic nightmare of police oppression, we may have an opportunity to examine, and hopefully reverse, a troubling policy trend of recent years.” — Paul Waldman, The American Prospect

Photo by Chase Carter Flicker/creative commons

Photo by Chase Carter
Flicker/creative commons

We’ve written our initial response to the unfolding events in Ferguson, Missouri, following the shooting over a week ago of Michael Brown by a white police force.

The escalation of protests and more violence at the hands of police continues as justice is delayed or denied for the Brown family, such as:

  • The Browns had to watch their son languish in the middle of the street, unattended for more than 4 hours.
  • The local police and the county prosecutor have completely failed in their duties, not releasing the name of the police officer for 6 days, and still giving no information from law enforcement’s reports on the shooting.
  • The pre-emptive release of a tape alleging Michael Brown was a shoplifter, although the policeman who shot Brown was unaware of this (not that it should have made any difference).
  • The overreaction of a militarized police force, a big nationwide problem that must be reversed, a key issue we will continue to cover.
  • The bull-headed insistence by Governor Jay Nixon and the rest of the white establishment that the community must first demonstrate peace before they will deal out justice when it is obvious that the reverse must take place in order for the unrest end.

It’s time to start looking for real and sustainable solutions, and we will dive deeper into these in the coming days:

  1. Mobilize people of color to vote, making sure they are represented proportionally at all levels of local, county, and state administration. The most recent elections in Ferguson brought out only 12% turnout by minorities, less than a third of white turnout.
  2. Support national legislation to reverse the decades long, constitution-bashing systems that turn local police forces into armed militias who must overreact to justify their existence. (Sign the Care2 petition.)
  3. Make every policeman wear a body camera, a simple fix that has shown a dramatic 88% decline in the number of complaints about police, and a similar drastic reduction in the use of force and police brutality. (Sign the White House petition.)
  4. More to come . . .

Michael Brown and his family have finally put a face on police brutality, sparking a robust national conversation that must take place. Freedom and human rights are just words, words this country peddles abroad but does little for at home. We can honor this family’s awful sacrifice by doing more each day to end this scourge in our nation. Will you?




Getting Untied Is A Mistake

Some recent memes have left me wondering: Are certain leaders consciously uncoupling from some of our core beliefs that motivate our activism in the first place?

For example, it seems to me that it would be much better if the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans (LGBT) community fights for all of the objectives of the immigration movement, as we have done in the past. However clear it is that LGBT people suffer disproportionally in all matters of immigration, our advocacy must be inclusive of the suffering of all people, LGBT and straight conjoined, in order to attack directly the underlying causes of immigration problems in the first place, such as racism and radical nationalism. This is not a suggestion that our message regarding LGBT immigration issues disappear or be subsumed by the larger message of human rights but that the latter, larger message is always a preface to to our special plea for our LGBT-specific issues.

"Luminarium" Sculpture by Alan Parkinson, UN Geneva, Switzerland Flickr/creative commons

“Luminarium” Sculpture by Alan Parkinson, UN Geneva, Switzerland
Flickr/creative commons

Just as LGBT advances have followed gains in women’s rights, we should pause to consider that we are a part of a larger fabric of social and economic justice and global human rights. Segmentation of any issue weakens the voice of all.

There are several reasons to be as inclusive as possible, the least of which is that we uncover our best allies when working in coalition, people who will support us when we need it. We can point out the special circumstances causing LGBT folks more trouble but not so loudly that all people hear is that we care more about our own. We can’t forget that everybody is suffering. We risk our own progress when we sound like we are pitting something like uniting same sex spouses over the needs of motherless children on the southern border.

Those of us who lived through the 60s, 70s, and 80s know that identification with the whole of any issue reliably enhances our credulity. When we rally shoulder-to-shoulder with activists dedicated to their causes across the social and economic spectrum (immigration, environment, economic, education, race, politics, religion, etc.), we are speaking to the broadest constituency. All of these issues, including sexual and gender freedom, are a matter of human rights. We can get our issues heard by more people if we set them in a reliable context, so there needn’t ever be a disconnect in our objectives.

The underlying cause of all injustice is enslavement of the many by the few. Peace, prosperity, everything, is inhibited because civilization has gradually surrendered the power of the group, giving away to someone else the power of the people that resides within us. For centuries, organized religion modeled human behavior through the opportunistic entrepreneurs who declared the necessity of their intercession between you and your direct line to the power of love. Whether you call this power god or something else, we all feel it flowing through our senses, continually recycled among those we love. Priests, ministers, pastors, imams, and rabbis, having recognized this universal power of love, found a way to exploit it for their own gains (getting shelter, food, currency, and other societal benefits) by warning that bad luck is sure to come to you if you didn’t follow their particular doctrine. Organized religions were the first corporations, and they are thriving, especially now that the Surpreme Court has declared the persons who can legally discriminate against others based on a false interpretation of both personhood and religious freedom.

As we have said before, the new age of sexual freedom is synonymous with the end of racism (at its root sexual oppression) and the end of nationalism (at its root racism). Sexual freedom is the bedrock of all freedoms because it fully expresses our bodily guarantee of plurality, global equality, and world peace.

Working arm-and-arm at the intersections of all issues pertaining human rights is the most direct path towards reaching our goals, common and specific.



What? Science? Who Needs Science?

On Monday, we wrote our analysis of the disastrous 5-4 Supreme Court decision in Burwell v Hobby Lobby, which gives greater religious freedom rights to closely held for-profit corporations and less religious freedom rights to natural persons (their words). We also urged you to express your dissent by signing on on to support Planned Parenthood in its defends health care access for women.

Flickr/creative commons

Flickr/creative commons


“The decision now says people have the right to ignore science; humans can ignore facts. Science can be contested, disproven, and proven, with experimentation, and the advancement of knowledge. But Hobby Lobby just got a religious exemption from the health care law and basically all science!” — Michelle Garcia at the Advocate 

Closely held for-profit corporations comprise 90% of American companies and millions of workers, and companies are now empowered to intervene in the health care access for women and the men that love them by denying coverage for commonly used, FDA-approved pregnancy prevention pills and devices, such as an IUD (intra-uterine device). We fully agree with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who wrote the dissenting opinion, warning that the Court is about to enter “a minefield.”

The New York Times previously tried to explain this, and VenusPlusX, Mother Jones, and others such as Garcia do very well in unpacking the bad science behind the decision. These 5 white men in the majority are uniformed and/or intentionally in denial by misunderstanding that the birth control methods they feel are so at odds with their religions interfere with embryo implantation when in fact they simply prevent fertilization.

These science-deniers and extreme-right wing nuts have driven down the Court’s favorability to 30%, and threaten the balance of government. Last month, VenusPlusX, discussed the impeachment of certain Supreme Court Justices, and this should add more fuel to the fire.

Garcia also makes another very good point of why this decision should worry every lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) person. Generations of LGBT activists have always understood that when it comes to progress, equality rights follow women’s rights. Legislation and lawsuits favoring LGBT people are based on this fact, and shows the two movements have be (and should be) inexorably linked for decades.

As a queer woman, it makes me want to shake every LGBT person who doesn’t see the broader implications of this. What if a company could tell employees that they won’t pay for insurance that covers HIV treatment or health care to transgender people because of owners’ “sincerely held religious beliefs”? Justice Samuel Alito, in writing the majority opinion, promised its scope was “very specific.” Still, some of us side with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and foresee a potential onslaught of legal challenges testing the limits.

When I unfurl my brow and relax to get a good night’s sleep I think about the upside of right-wing theocratic extremism — it brings out the voters. The more desperate the right-wing nuts are and the more sloppy they become help focus progressive action. In America, we can use the issues where Republicans fall short (women’s rights, immigration rights, LGBT rights, immigration rights, workers rights, and on and on) to vote them out in November, insuring a super-majority in the Senate will be available there to appoint new progressive Justices as maybe needed in the next few years; and, regaining the House to replace the do-nothing bunch there now.

291679976_f8e1803bf5_oIt’s the political season. Put your boots on the ground to stand up for those whose human rights are under attack. We have to get our own house in order before we can affect similar changes in trouble spots across the world. Two follows one, three follows two, and so on and so on so just take that first step towards change.

See A Manifesto for The New Age of Sexual Freedom to understand why VenusPlusX believes issues like these are of supreme importance.


United Nations Fails to Protect All Families

UN Human Rights Council Adopts Non-Inclusive Protection of the Family Resolution

“It should not be up to an accidental majority of states
to define what does and what does not
constitute a family. I urge all states to respect,
protect and fulfil the human rights
of all individual members belonging to all
different types of families, including same-sex families.”

— Sirpa Pietikäinen, MEP
(Member of the European Parliament (MEP)
Vice-President of the LGBT Intergroup


Photo by Elvert Barnes Flickr/Creative Commons

Photo by Elvert Barnes
Flickr/Creative Commons

A few years ago the United States crossed a meaningful threshold with respect to untraditional families. For the first time, untraditional families surpassed the number of traditional families. It’s a fact now that fewer families are “nuclear” families, a man, a woman, and children. Same sex parents, single parents, grandparents raising grandchildren, co-parenting among divorced couples, co-parenting with sperm donors, and polyamory families with children are some of the trends that created this statistical change, which we can see in other countries as well.

Getting the world to accept and welcome these variations, however, will be problematical. This week, we saw that the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution on the “Protection of the Family.” On its face perhaps innocuous but the resolution urges the High Commissioner for Human Rights to sponsor a panel discussion on “the issue of the protection of the family.”

Whereas the resolution does not define ‘family’, the reference to a singular ‘family’ could be used as precedent to oppose rights for same-sex couples, single parents, and other forms of families in future UN negotiations.

An amendment tabled by Chile, Uruguay, Ireland and France, which underlined that “different cultural, political and social systems various forms of the family exist,”was not discussed after Russia brought a “no action” motion which was adopted by a 22-20 majority.

Ulrike Lunacek MEP, Co-President of the LGBT Intergroup, reacted: “I am shocked by the tactics used by Russia and 21 other governments to avoid a discussion on the diversity of family forms. In a shameful manner they used a procedural motion to avoid talking about content.”

“Referring to family, without recognising the existence of more types of families, is to look away from reality where we find families in all forms and shapes.”

This turn of events is particularly vexing since the UN’s own Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 16) gave us the right to family since 1948 but, intentionally or not, doesn’t itself define what a family is.

Article 16.

  • (1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
  • (2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
  • (3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State

(The Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

The only conclusion, therefore, is that this new resolution is rooted in discrimination politics rather human rights.


The Sexual Freedom Project: Activism Intersects With All Walks of Life

What motivates you to be an activist? Was there one radicalizing experience that made you get up and do something, or was it a gradual evolution?How does your activism interact or relate to other aspects of your life?

Join The Sexual Freedom Project cast with your own video or essay (via, and we will send you a free VenusPlusX t-shirt to thank you.

More videos here.

Video edited by Tiye Massey.

Human Rights in Perspective: Current Challenges to Sexual Freedom (Part 1)

Photo by Tim Evanson

The human mind is a dangerous weapon. The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013 from the U.S. State Department reinforce this timeless notion. The Report, released in February, gives us a clear view of the current frontier in the human rights struggle.

Things have come to a head, and at this point you have no excuse to be uninformed. The discrimination that the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Trans) community is facing worldwide is out of control, and will surely have adverse effects on people of all races, genders, colors, and creeds if left alone.
Freedom is not freedom if it is only reserved for those who adhere to irrational sensibilities. The very notion of liberty is being belittled, and those affected, along with their allies, must continue to push back against these transgressions. The cogs of hate will not stop turning by themselves. These issues have been on the agenda in the United States for some time now, and it seems like more and more we are bending towards the arc of justice.

However, there is still a long way to go in the United States and worldwide. Many solutions so far have been the equivalent of placing a bucket under a leaking pipe, simply an acknowledgement of these issues. More and more people are becoming personally conscious of these issues, so now is the time to turn to better solutions.
First, we have to fully apprehend the source of the discrimination against LGBT people, the extreme conservative-traditionalist ideologies, often of a religious nature. These falsified ideals are ignorant — fear of the unknown coupled with misunderstanding, the boiling anger that consumes some individuals whenever confronted with facts and reality, their loss of control. To many of us, it is no shocking revelation that a global kinship of hate has been created, forged by shared ideas that aim to fight a common enemy. Although our cultural sensibilities and aversion to political strife play key roles in apathy, this situation does not warrant apathy, it demands action. Apathy is often a precursor to regret.

Wake up. Instead of coldly observing the discrimination of others, begin to understand how easily the tides can turn. Next time it could be you on the receiving end.

The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013

Part 2, where we will review two countries detailed in the Report.
Check back Thursday for Part 3, our call to action.

What is Family?

(Tabién en español)

A particularly important idea that really answers the question, “What is family?” is that a family is what we make it.

Yes, the nuclear family with a mother, father, and two children may sill be considered the norm, but in reality, non-traditional families are a rising majority. a subject that I began to learn more about during a few of the panels at Woodhull’s Sexual Freedom Summit. Speakers such as Diana Adams and Anita Wagner Illig explained to their audience that there are many other groups that can be considered family, even if their family format is not exactly mainstream: a single mother and her children; a lesbian couple, a sperm donor who wishes to take an active role in the child’s life, and the child; a gay couple, their child, and a surrogate mother; one parent, a child, and grandparents; and, polyamorous groups such as a married couple and their other partners. These may not be the individuals that people normally associate first with the word “family,” but that doesn’t make their love and devotion for each other any less real. They are all important example of what a family really is.

Creative Commons: Gay Ray

Creative Commons: Gay Ray

Fortunately, a wider view of family is starting to become more common throughout society. LGBT and polyamorous groups are now able to adopt children and California has even proposed a bill that could allow for the possibility of legally recognizing 3-parent families. Though the term “family” was undefined, UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 16) gave us the right to family since 1948, which doesn’t itself define what a family is.

Article 16.

  • (1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
  • (2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
  • (3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State

(The Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

It is a fairly recent development that this idea has reached beyond that of the nuclear family, which, again, no longer describes the majority of families in this country. Now that this definition gives LGBT families legal recognition, there is hope that in the future, we will be able to share this same right freely with all non-traditional families.

Creative Commons: Eric Ward

Editor’s Note: On September 22, 2012, at the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit, Woodhull’s Executive Director Ricci Levy announced the official launch of it’s newest campaign, The Family Matters Project, “Woodhull recognizes the diversity of family in the United States and our goal is to protect our fundamental human right to family by eliminating discrimination based on family structure and relationship choices.” Summit attendees were among the first to contribute by filling out cards describing why family means to them that will appear as part of this national campaign.. 

Pass This Test and Get Kicked Out of School

También en español

Delhi Charter School, in Louisiana, has a Student Pregnancy Policy that allows staff to force female students who are suspected of being pregnant to take a pregnancy test. If students are pregnant or refuse to take the test, they are kicked out and must undergo home schooling if they want to continue their education at the school.

Apparently, Delhi Charter School doesn’t believe that female students have a right to education free from discrimination, unlike the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance (Woodhull) as mentioned in my previous post, “Sex Education is a Human Right.” Moreover, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) published an article admonishing Delhi’s policy for its blatant violation of federal law and the U.S. Constitution. Specifically, the policy completely disregards Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972, which prohibits sex discrimination in federal funded education programs and activities. Title IX explicitly mandates that schools cannot exclude any student from an education program or activity “on the basis of such a student’s pregnancy, childbirth, false pregnancy, termination of pregnancy or recovery therefrom.” Coupled with this offense is the policy’s violation of the Constitution’s due process right to procreate and equal protection by treating female students differently from male students.

Delhi Charter School’s policy is not only a violation of Title IX and the Constitution, but also the fundamental human rights of access to information, education, and sexual freedom.

Yet, approximately 70% of teenage girls who give birth drop out of school because illegal discrimination and the fact many schools fail to help pregnant and parenting teens stay in school: some schools even exclude or punish them. How could this be?

Well, let’s take a look at the educational system. As Woodhull’s State of Sexual Freedom 2011 report documents, the United States has high sexually transmitted infection (STI) rates and the highest teen pregnancy rate among industrialized nations. Woodhull highlights two important reasons for this: other developed countries have easier access to contraception and health care services, and there is more comprehensive sexuality education. So without access to both basic health care services, including contraception, and comprehensive sex education (in the U.S., more than half the states still don’t require sex education), it’s no wonder why almost 750,000 females between the ages of 15 and 19 become pregnant each year. Not only does this lack of sexual health education affect students, but also school administrators and staff. Without proper training and education, administrators and teachers are ill equipped to adequately deal with the needs of pregnant and parenting students’ situations.

Pregnant and parenting teens are legally entitled to education and supportive services for themselves and their children. Click to find out more about the legal rights of female students in New York and Minnesota.

Hence, we need to education both students and school administrations about the procedures that are required by law to support pregnant and parenting teens that already face social stigma. Most importantly, as Woodhull posits over and over again, we need to educate teens about their basic human rights of sexual freedom and sexual health information. When students are knowledgeable about their sexual rights, whether pregnant, parenting, or not, they are better equipped to stand up for themselves, their education, and against the illegal, discriminatory practices and barriers within the education system.

If you want to find out more about the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance and their views on sexual health education and other key issues of sexual freedom, such as sex work and reproductive justice, you can visit their website. Also, you can attend Woodhull’s Sexual Freedom Summit (September 21-23), where Alison Gardner and Dan Massey, VenusPlusX’s founders who work closely throughout the year with Woodhull as members of its Advisory Council, will presenting their workshop session, “Sacred Sexuality and Erotic Communion, the Human Experience.”

Creative Commons Image Provided by: Center for Disease Control and Prevention
Creative Commons Image Provided by: Polina Sergeeva

Sex Education is a Human Right

También en español

The Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance (Woodhull), named in honor of Victoria Woodhull, joins the public discussion about sex education by framing it in the context of sexual freedom and human rights.

Woodhull is a leader in advocacy and activism for sexual freedom, rights, and liberty and also acts as a convener of activists and a resource for progressive initiatives that advance sexual freedom. Woodhull works hard to combat the prohibition of pleasure, advance an agenda that recognizes the wonderful diversity of sex, sexuality, and our rights as human beings to make informed, consensual choices in our lives; Woodhull recognizes that this agenda can be accomplished through comprehensive sex education. Woodhull believes that comprehensive sex education includes age-appropriate, medically accurate information on a broad set of topics related to sexuality, addresses both genders and transgender and all orientations and disability, and teaches how alcohol and drugs can effect responsible decision making.

However, Woodhull does not just approach sexual health as an educational issue, but also in the context of sexual freedom and our universal human rights.

Former U.S. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt with the English version of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Woodhull posits on the inclusion of sexual freedom.

In their report, State of Sexual Freedom in the United States 2011, Woodhull advocates that human beings, including youth and adults, have the right to access information that will help them make the best decisions for themselves and lead happier lives. As sexuality is a part of every human being, access to sexuality information is a part of our basic human rights. Sexuality is not only about sex, either. In the broadest terms, sexuality encompasses everything from engaging in sexual acts, to how people see themselves in terms of body image and gender roles, to how people relate to others in emotional and physical relationships.

As such, Woodhull asserts that everyone deserves access to comprehensive sex education, because a lack of access to valid information about sex and sexuality is not only harmful and ineffective, but also contrary our fundamental humans rights. Along with the right to access vital information, we have the human right of sexual freedom, a freedom that is the right of all individuals to develop and express their unique sexuality, and includes the freedom of sexuality education and sexual health. Sexual freedom involves not only the freedom “to do” something sexually, but also the freedom “not to do” something sexually. Therefore, sexual health programs that boost sexual health, like comprehensive sex education, are the ideal for sexual freedom because they incorporate teachings about both abstinence and contraception.

Woodhull justifiably frames the discussion of sex education in the context of our fundamental human rights of education and sexual freedom.

If you want to find out more about the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance and their views on sexual health education and other key issues of sexual freedom, such as sex work and reproductive justice, you can visit their website. Also, you can attend Woodhull’s Sexual Freedom Summit (September 21-23), where Alison Gardner and Dan Massey, VenusPlusX’s founders who work closely throughout the year with Woodhull as members of its Advisory Council, will presenting their workshop session, “Sacred Sexuality and Erotic Communion, the Human Experience.”

Creative Commons Image Provided by: Wikimedia
Feature Image Provided by: Alifa Watkins 


“Femicidios”: Unsolved Murders Against Women in Mexico and the Caribbean (Part I)

También en español ”Death to the b**ches, I’m back” read a sign found next to the body of one of the nearly 1,700 Guatemalan women who have been murdered in the past five years. Since 1993, some 500 women of limited means have been killed or disappeared from the streets of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. The authorities have not resolved these female murders. “Women of all ages, educational levels, social-economic backgrounds, races, ethnicities and sexual orientations may be the eventual victim of this extreme form of gender-based violence”, explains the scholar Diana Russell.

While femicide is committed around the world, the border city of Ciudad Juárez’s infamy as the capital of feminicide is by now common knowledge. The term “feminicidio” was first used in the late 1990s to describe a phenomenon of unsolved murders and disappearances in Ciudad Juárez, dating to 1993, the year women’s rights groups first noticed an unusual increase in murders and disappearances of women and girls. It was this alarming rate of violence against women in the border region and the near-absolute impunity for gender crimes that catalyzed transnational activism: the hemispheric “Por la Vida de las Mujeres” (For the Life of Women) initiative launched by the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defense of Women’s Rights (known by its Spanish acronym, CLADEM); research on the subject matter; and, eventually, the elaboration of “feminicide.”

Most of the bodies of murdered women exhibit high levels of sexual violence. The murders and disappearances of women occur within the context of a patriarchal society with high levels of sexism, discrimination and misogyny. Mexico, for example, has one of the highest rates of gender violence in the world, with 38 percent of Mexican women affected by physical, sexual or psychological abuse, compared with 33 percent of women worldwide. Two-thirds of female homicides occur in the home, and 67 percent of women in Mexico suffer domestic violence. For Guatemala, the figure is 47 percent.

In Mexico, women’s human rights groups have long held that police failed to respond to gender crimes because “they feared organized crime was involved, or because they were involved themselves, or both.” Police indifference to gender crimes is rooted in a system of illegality so interpenetrated in the state structure that it blurs the distinction between state institutions and criminal networks, and between government agents and criminal agents.

After Mexican President Felipe Calderon launched Operation Chihuahua in 2008, deploying thousands of soldiers and military police to the region, violence and criminality have reached pandemic proportions, together with a disturbing trend of human rights violations committed by the very same security forces sent to restore order.

Parte 2, to come.

Thanks to Eduardo Carrasco for contributing to this story.