Obama Supports Victims of Discriminaton, Do Women?

It is unfortunate that an amendment to ban gay marriage was passed in North Carolina a day before the president of the United States announced his support for same-sex marriage. At a time that support for the LGBTQ community is at an all time high, we are still reminded that we haven’t advanced as much as we’d hoped.

This summer I have been presented with various opportunities to understand the struggle of the LGBTQ community. Most importantly, for the first time in my life I am inspired to think about the equal opportunities they are fighting for and whether or not I support their fight.  I have since decided that I completely support not only the LGBTQ community, but I also support the fight of every individual facing inequalities and unfair discrimination. Personally, I have never been discriminated against based on my sexuality and I have not experienced the inequalities that many other groups face on a daily basis. However, as both an African American and a female I know all too well what it feels like to be discriminated against for just being myself.

I recently began an internship at Hollaback, a non-profit organization with a mission to end street harassment (unwanted advances and comments made toward women while in public spaces). Working at this organization has given me insight into the ways in which women’s organizations can provide a platform for other groups such as the LGBTQ community to have their voices heard. In less than a decade Hollaback has gained a massive following in 50 cities and 17 countries. Hollaback openly supports other groups that have faced oppression, which in turn allows these groups to gain a wide-range of supporters and brings attention to the issues they are facing. Due to this exposure, feminists and women who often advocate for female empowerment become inspired to think about others and the issues that these people struggle with.

A member of the LGBTQ community sat down with Hollaback to discuss the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), a measure aimed at ensuring transgender New Yorkers are protected from discrimination in areas of everyday life. I listened as the representative and my supervisor came up with ideas that Hollaback could work with the LGBTQ community to ensure that it was widely recognized that legal protections based upon gender identity and expression are a basic civil right. I was unaware that individuals who identify as transgender were constantly discriminated against while seeking employment and housing. It did not seem fair and I realized that I would have never known about GENDA if I had not been interning at Hollaback. I finally began to understand the major role that organizations like Hollaback could have in bringing awareness to issues and ideas that most people are unfamiliar with. Now that I was aware of GENDA, I wouldn’t feel right advocating for women and the inequalities we face while ignoring these other victims of blatant discrimination.  How can I expect people to support me and my fight for equality if I am not willing to acknowledge the struggles of others?

It was not long before I learned about GENDA that I witnessed another group requesting to work with Hollaback. A few weeks ago I was forwarded an email from my supervisor. The email was from a man who was a member of the deaf community. He was requesting that Hollaback support members of the deaf community to fight against the negative exploitation of sign language. After reading the email, I could not help but question how Hollaback and its mission to end street harassment would attract members of the deaf community. I eventually came to the realization that deaf individuals are no different than women who experience street harassment. Both groups of people face discrimination and judgment based on something we cannot change about ourselves, whether that is being deaf or being female.

There are several feminist and women’s rights organizations that are supported by millions of people who are fed up with gender based discrimination. It is not difficult for supporters of these organizations to take time and learn about other victims of discrimination: the LGBTQ community, the disabled, domestic workers, etc. It should become more commonplace that these successful organizations publicly admit their support for these people whose voices are not always heard. As President Obama said in the video “It Gets Better,” which addresses young victims of bullying, “I don’t know what it’s like to be picked on for being gay. But I do know what it’s like to grow up feeling that sometimes you don’t belong.” We may not have personally experienced the inequalities of every other group but as women we have all been in situations where we were made to feel inferior because of our gender. Women should work with other groups and join them in their fight for equality because standing up for what’s right is the freedom that America’s all about. As citizens of this country we all deserve respect and fair treatment.

The Reality of Movements: Some Voices Heard, Others Forgotten

This week we read about labor unions in the book “Organizing Where We Live and Work.” The author would constantly stress the idea that worker’s home lives should be considered just as much as their work lives when forming unions or movements. The book also mentioned that most poor worker’s unions were successful because people from the same class and race would come together and fight for similar issues. This observation made me wonder whether any movement would ever be able to incorporate all groups and the issues they are most concerned with.  It seems as though large groups will ultimately split into smaller factions consisting of people who can identify the most with one another. The women’s movement is an example of how women have a hard time deciding which issues are the most important.  During our reflection session, it was mentioned that it is difficult to imagine oneself in another’s shoes (ex. a middle-class woman understanding the concerns of low income women). It is our instinct to fight for the issues that are most relevant to us and our current situation. Another example of a movement that has split into several factions is the Occupy Wall Street Movement that now includes the women’s caucus and disability caucus. These groups and several others that have formed because they feel as though the movement does not address the issues that are most important to them. It almost seems as though movements and unions that split are more likely to be successful because everyone within those groups are fighting for the same issues. Until we are willing to compromise and put ourselves in the shoes of others, not much will be accomplished by a single movement; some voices will be heard while others will be ignored and forgotten.

We went to visit the National Domestic Worker’s alliance where we spoke to a woman who had been working as a domestic worker for many years. She spoke about the mistreatment of domestic workers by their employers. We learned about a domestic worker’s bill of rights that has been passed in New York and will soon be passed in other states.  But the feeling of optimism soon changed during our group discussion when we spoke about the unfair treatment of sweatshop workers. We then admitted that we were aware that we buy affordable clothes made in sweat shops.  It was mentioned that if we were to stop purchasing these clothes then we would decrease the demand for clothes made in sweatshop working conditions. However, not much of the group was willing to give up buying these clothes because they are good quality and cheap.  I soon realized that even if we were to stop buying these clothes, the stores would not suffer a major blow to sales. There are millions of people who would still buy the clothes and several others who cannot afford to buy more expensive clothes.  In my opinion the people who can really make the difference are the domestic workers who organize unions and groups to advocate for better pay and working conditions. If these workers refused to work under certain conditions, there wouldn’t be an option to buy quality clothes at affordable prices. But, we also must consider the fact that these workers probably cannot afford to strike or stop working, and others may fear that they will end up unemployed if they complain about their jobs. There is no one solution to this complicated issue but I do think that domestic workers may be able to form successful unions where everyone who works a certain job could fight for the same rights. I remain skeptical about the success of a movement or union that tries to incorporate all domestic workers because these workers like women have different experiences and pressing concerns.

Equality Has No Specific Gender or Sexual Orientation

The Pride Rally was an unforgettable experience that has made me view love in a completely different way. Despite being heterosexual, I have always been an advocate for the rights of the LGBTQ community. Going to the pride rally this past weekend has opened my eyes about how love should be encouraged no matter the sex of the individuals who share the love. At the rally, I was surrounded by people who were supportive and not afraid to speak up about what they feel is right, true activists. Not only was the LGBTQ community acknowledged during the rally, but the speakers also were sure to express their gratitude towards the heterosexuals who came to show support.

Attending the pride rally was one of the first times I have truly felt welcomed and appreciated at an event in New York City. Love and positivity filled the atmosphere. One phrase that was said various times during the rally was, “love is love” and I have never understood the true meaning of that phrase until being at the rally, surrounded by people who weren’t afraid to show love for one another. One of the most memorable speakers at the rally shared his story while sending an important message to everyone in the audience. He openly admitted to being HIV Positive, showing that he was not afraid to share something very personal with audience members at the rally because he viewed everyone as his family. He mentioned that everyone in the LGBTQ community is in the fight for equality together and no one is ever alone or should have to fear not being accepted. This speaker embodied “pride” in every aspect of the word.

The rally was also meaningful because the LGBTQ community is fighting the same fight as women. Similarly to the LGBTQ community, the women’s movement encourages equality, support, and an end to discrimination. Just as the LGBTQ community wants people to recognize their love is no different from the love of heterosexual couples, women want society to understand that we are no different from men and should have the same opportunities.

I am glad to have been given the chance to march in the NYC pride parade with my non-profit organization, Hollaback. As I march I will hold my head high as a young woman and as an individual who understands that “love is love.” Gender and sexual orientation should never limit the rights that an individual has in society.

Finally Admitted to Being a Feminist

Rikera is a rising sophomore working with Hollaback who combats street harassment locally and globally.

I have always privately identified as a feminist, but shockingly I have never been asked about my stance on feminism and the women’s movement until participating in the Moxie Project. This summer I am working with a nonprofit organization called Hollaback. This nonprofit caught my attention because of its mission to put an end to street harassment (the sexually offensive chants women hear when walking down the street and inappropriate interactions with the opposite sex). As a young woman I have experienced street harassment numerous times and I am aware that almost every other woman has had a similar experience.

On my first day of interning with Hollaback, I openly admitted to being a feminist for the first time around a group of other women who were all sharing their stories and experiences with street harassment. During my first day I also asked Emily May, one of the founders of Hollaback, what inspired her to start this nonprofit organization. She then told me about a woman who once rode the subway and had to witness a man engage in an inappropriate sexual act while staring at her the entire time. The woman took a picture of this man and reported it to the police. The police only brushed off the incident which made it clear that street harassment is not considered a serious crime. This courageous woman posted the photo to an online Flickr account where many people had access to it. Once this picture had gone viral it made news headlines and was posted in the newspaper. This woman’s determination to draw attention to street harassment inspired the founders of Hollaback to create a nonprofit that would bring more attention to these incidents across the world in an effort to initiate the social change needed to put an end to street harassment.

This summer I will be creating a street harassment guide. This resource guide will include informative articles, books, and films on street harassment. I will create “How To” guides on marches, film screenings, mud stenciling, panels, legislative advocacy, research and surveys that will be useful to site leaders at other nonprofit organizations. I am excited about working on this project because not enough women and nonprofit site leaders are informed about the resources available to help bring attention to street harassment and decrease occurrences of harassment globally.