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Declining Nomination to the Inaugural “Trans 100” List

Date: April 3, 2013

Last Sunday, trans activist groups We Happy Trans and This Is HOW launched the first-ever “Trans 100” List highlighting “100 trans activists currently working in the U.S. to improve the conditions of the community and the lives of those in it.”

During the launch ceremony, which was held in Chicago and was also live-streamed online, they announced my name as one of the 100 activists, without my consent. I only found out about it because someone congratulated me on Twitter. It was confusing, because at first I only read that I was “mentioned,” which didn’t make it clear if I was actually one of the 100 people named in “Trans 100” list, or if I was just casually mentioned–but someone watching the event told me that they definitely did read my name as part of the list.

Seeing my confused tweets, co-directors of “Trans 100” both reached out me later to apologize what happened. Here’s what they said:

This was the first attempt at creating a list of trans activists doing work in the community. We had over 500 nominations. A team of 17 curators researched, argued and voted on 360 distinct individuals. We had aimed to secure permission from each of the final 100 selected before the 31st, and a volunteer wrote to this address on the 26th, but there were a few people who we hadn’t heard from, yourself included.

I produced the launch event held in Chicago, where we were to read aloud the 100 names. In the last minute push to show time, I made a quick decision to read all 100 names, but hold off on publishing the list, which was supposed to be released immediately following the event.

It was a bad judgement call to read your name when we hadn’t secured your permission, and I apologize. It was an error that won’t be repeated with anyone else in the future, and I’m truly sorry you had to learn about this secondhand.

I can just imagine the nightmare of communicating with every one of 100 people when working with a deadline, so I understand why they did what they did–although of course it would have been better if they didn’t just jump forward. I do appreciate their work, and that they nominated me for the honor.

After much thought, however, I decided to formally decline my inclusion in this year’s “Trans 100” list. I just don’t like being packaged this way, especially when the list is being sent to the mainstream media, and also feel that it would impose an expectation on me that feels restrictive. I need to be able to write and speak honestly without worrying that I might give “Trans 100” list bad publicity.? I’m weird like that.

On a side note, this reminded me of when Campus Pride selected me as part of its 2009 “Hot List.” Campus Pride didn’t contact me at all, before or after the selection (well not for several years until I was contacted for something else), and I only found out about it when a local LGBT newspaper called me to interview me about it. I was so unprepared and uninterested in the listing that they didn’t even use any part of my interview.

The Oregonian’s “fact check” on “average age” myth: They were aware of the falsehood for almost three years

Date: March 5, 2013

Last month, while distributing a error-ridden “fact sheet” on commercial sexual exploitation of youth (CSEY/CSEC) to a roomful of audience members, Multnomah County Collaboration Specialist for CSEC Joslyn Baker said that the line that stated (inaccurately) “the average age of entry into commercial sex industry in the U.S. is 12 years old” might need to be changed because there is a “pushback from local media.” I did not know what she was referring to at the time, but surely enough, The Oregonian finally decided to fact-check the claim in its PolitiFact Oregon column last week.

While I was glad to see that The Oregonian now officially acknowledges that there is no basis for this oft-repeated yet demonstrably false claim, its investigation falls short of what I, just a local activist, wrote almost three years ago; in fact, everything PolitiFact Oregon writer Janie Har examined and wrote about in her column was already in my three-year old blog post, including the 2001 University of Pennsylvania study, and Shared Hope International’s 2009 report that shows a pie chart that does not match the claim made in the main text and does not include a citation. Har contacted Shared Hope for further clarification and received no response, which is what I had already done in July 2010.

Furthermore, Har makes this issue about the truthfulness of Multnomah County Commissioner Diane McKeel’s column published in August 2010 as well as her more recent comment to Oregonian columnist Elizabeth Hovde this past January, but somehow fails to point out that Elizabeth Hovde claimed in her Oregonian column that “the average age of entry into prostitution is 13” the month before Commissioner McKeel wrote it. More than likely, The Oregonian misled Commissioner McKeel in the first place, before it realized the mistake and decided to blame it on her.

I first read the claim about the “average age” in Hovde’s column, and was immediately suspicious. There are certainly young people 13 or even younger who are sexually exploited for commercial gain, but they are definitely outliers. If the average age was actually 13, there would have to be many more 8 or 10 year olds being forced into prostitution that is realistically possible to counter-balance all other people who are entering in their late teens or adulthood. So I started looking up the source, and it was very easy to find out that the figure was not based in any actual evidence. My investigation led to my writing the aforementioned blog post which explained how the claim was false, in more detail than Har was able to articulate three years later.

I also contacted Elizabeth Hovde on July 3, 2010 to share my findings.

From: Emi Koyama
To: Elizabeth Hovde
Date: July 3, 2010
Subject: Average age of entry

Ms. Hovde,

I’m contacting you to correct the error in your Oregonian column about sex trafficking.

You cite USDOJ as the source to state that “the average age of entry into prostitution is 13.” This is incorrect.

DOJ has not conducted any such study, but cites a report from researchers at University of Pennsylvania titled “The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children In the U. S., Canada and Mexico” (attached for your viewing). This report is NOT based on representative sampling of people who work in (or have worked in) prostitution, or even of youth who are/have been in prostitution, as the report itself states.

The “average age” is also based on the minors who were studied, which means that no adults in prostitution, including those who started working in prostitution after the age of 18, were included. This is like studying the average age of death for those who died as minors: the average age of death would be probably something around 13, but it has no bearing whatsoever on the average life expectancy of the general population. Similarly, the “average age of entry” among minors has no bearing on the actual average age of entry for all people who are or have been in prostitution.

Further, because the study only surveys minors, those who entered prostitution early have much greater chance of being studied than those who started at 16 or 17. That is, someone who started at 13 has five years to be studied by the researchers (because that person can be 13, 14, 15, 16, or 17 at the time of the study), while those who started at 17 only has one year. As a result, the number of people who entered at 13 are inflated by the factor of five compared to the number of people who entered at 17.

But even without knowing this, common sense should tell you that the average age of entry cannot possibly be 13. Let’s consider two possibilities: 1) the distribution of the age of entry is normally distributed (bell curve), or 2) it isn’t normally distributed. If the age of entry is normally distributed, that would mean that there are equal number of 8 year olds entering prostitution as there are 18 year olds–which you know isn’t true (if it were, we’d see much more media coverage about 8 year olds being prostituted). If the distribution isn’t normal, it would likely mean that there are many times more 11-13 year olds entering prostitution compared to 16 and up (to compensate for the fact there are very few pre-teens entering prostitution)–which once again cannot be true.

The only conclusion that is consistent with logics and common sense is that the average age of entry isn’t 13, but is closer to 18 or older. That doesn’t diminish the fact that some 13 and 14 year olds are being recruited into prostitution, and we should do something about it. But we need to keep our conversations based on reality and reason, rather than falsehood and panic.

(Cc: to Dr. Stephanie Wahab, Regional Research Institute at Portland State University. If you need help deciphering the UPenn study, she might be able to help you better than I can.)

Emi Koyama

Here’s her reply:

From: Elizabeth Hovde
To: Emi Koyama
Date: July 5, 2010
Subject: Re: Average age of entry

I appreciate the information, Emi. I was using two sets of information. The DOJ Web site lists the Pennsylvania info. The DOJ also commissioned a study with Shared Hope INternational (The National Report on Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking), which found a 12-14 age of entry in field surveys in 10 cities (I think … need to revisit to be sure).

I will contact appropriate sources about how to phrase the information better. You’re right that my column should make reference to the fact that the average age of entry for a YOUTH is 13, rather than a blanket statement. I will relook at my column and list a correction as needed. I haven’t visited the column since the edit. Does that phrasing make sense to you?
Thanks for the note and the concern.

Onward,

Elizabeth

I was not aware of the Shared Hope report, so I downloaded a copy and started analyzing it.

From: Emi Koyama
To: Elizabeth Hovde
Date: July 5, 2010
Subject: Re: Average age of entry

Hello – thank you for the reply.

I’ve looked up the report (“The National Report on Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking from Shared Hope International”), but I can’t locate any original research by SHI. On page 30 of the SHI report, there are two statements: “The average age that a pimp recruits a girl into prostitution is 12 to 14” and “Research has shown that the average age of entry into prostitution and pornography is 12 to 14 years old in the United States.” They are sourced to SHI’s training material titled “Prostituted Children in the United States: Identifying and Responding to America’s Trafficked Youth.” So I searched for and found this material on SHI’s website and looked into it, but it cited the DOJ as the source for this “statistics.” In other words, SHI does not seem to have an independent source other than the same DOJ fact sheet (which misrepresents the UPenn study) for the “12 to 14 year old” figure.

There is also a chart and table titled “Average Age of Entry into Prostitution,” with the breakdown of victims’ ages (11 thru 17). I find this chart puzzling for a couple of reasons. First, it doesn’t cite any source for the data, so I don’t know which study it is supposed to represent. The sample size is n=103, while the UPenn study included 63 boys and 107 girls. Second, if you actually calculate the numbers shown in the chart, the “average” os actually almost 15 (14.89), which contradicts the claim that the average is between 12 and 14. The median age (which is probably a better indicator of general tendency) is 16.

That said, it’s still not accurate to state that the average age of entry for a youth is 13. It is accurate to say that the average age at which UPenn research participants reported to have entered is 13, but there are many problems with generalizing this figure. The biggest problem, as I’ve explained in the first email, is how the research method artificially inflates the number of participants who entered into prostitution earlier.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that an equal number of youth enter prostitution at age 13 and at age 17. Members of the first group might be interviewed when they are 13, 14, 15, 16, or 17, while the latter can only be interviewed when they are 17, because those who become older aren’t included in the study. In any given year when the research takes place, we could encounter 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17 year olds who each entered when they were 13, while we will only interview 17 year olds form the latter group, because those who entered at 17 and are now 18, 19, 20, or 21 are not part of the study. When the study is compiled, you would find that there were five participants aged 13-17 who all say that they entered at 13, while there was only one person who reports having entered at 17. It is still wrong to conclude that youth is five times as likely to enter into prostitution at 13 compared to entering at 17, since we started from the scenario that the number of 13 year olds and 17 years olds entering prostitution is equal.

Thus, since we are only studying youth 17 and under, we can’t simply add numbers (age at which the participant has entered into prostitution) and divide by the number of participants to calculate the “average age of entry”; we need to compensate for how the study excludes those who entered into prostitution toward the end of the cutting-off point (18), and make adjustments. Using the data from the chart/table on page 30 of the SHI report, I calculated the adjusted “average age of entry,” which turns out to be almost 16 (15.96). This number (age 16) still isn’t entirely satisfactory, since the research subjects aren’t randomly selected and there are other ways errors can happen (for example, some participants were interviewed in groups with their peers, which is known to distort the data). My calculation is also rudimentary and at best an approximation, since I don’t have access to the complete data. But I suspect that it is much closer to reality than the 12-13 figure.

And details like this matter. Social policies we must enact to prevent and stop sexual exploitation of minors would differ greatly if the average age of entry is 13 or 16. I feel that many people use the lower figure for shock value, to arouse strong emotional reaction toward the issue, but the distortion of reality is irresponsible. We need to understand reality as they are and craft rational and sensible responses to the problem, rather than indulging ourselves in panicked frenzy.

Emi Koyama

I did not hear back from Elizabeth Hovde again.

In conclusion:

  • Yeay! The Oregonian acknowledges that the claim is baseless! (But why is it rated “half-truth” if there is no basis for it? And why did they not mention any other study that contradict 12-14 claim?)
  • I have a feeling that Janie Har read my blog post. How can she not, if she actually did any research? The fact that she mentions the same Shared Hope report and points out the same problems strengthens my suspicion. If she did read my blog, why did she not speak with me or give me credit?
  • Janie Har writes as if the problem comes from Commissioner McKeel, and Oregonian columnist Elizabeth Hovde simply wrote down McKeel’s comment. But the truth is that Hovde herself perpetuated the false claim before McKeel did.
  • Elizabeth Hovde has been aware of the problems Har points out about the University of Pennsylvania figure as well as the Shared Hope report, because I pointed out the exact same problems almost three years ago.
  • Elizabeth Hovde and The Oregonian had the opportunity to stop perpetuating the myth for almost three years, and yet failed to do so as recently as this January. While Janie Har’s column is to be commended, The Oregonian and Hovde need to take responsibility for their part in the falsehood, rather than simply blaming McKeel for it.

Memo: Exploring an Anti-Utopian Feminism

Date: February 20, 2013

I was recently approached by someone for a contribution toward a collection of essays exploring radical imagination for a feminist utopia. She was particularly interested in my idea of “whore revolution,” and what the world would look like after the revolution. I seem to suffer from a lack of radical imagination, or perhaps from too much radical skepticism, so it didn’t seem like a good match for my style. Here’s how I responded:

Thank you for writing me.

I am interested in exploring further the idea of whore revolution, but I actually had an immediate suspicion of utopian conception of feminism as I read your email for the first time. I think as sex workers and people in the sex trade we suffer from the imposition of utopian feminism that says sex industry should not exist and does not respond to the lived experiences and conditions of the actual people involved.

Over time, my thinking around feminist utopia has evolved to reject it ultimately. My feminism is built around hearing and responding to specific claims of experiencing violence, injury, and injustice, and not based on some abstract theorizing about utopia. In fact, that is my response to the question, “why do you call yourself a feminist instead of just a humanist or egalitarian?” Humanism and egalitarianism are (male) philosophies based on abstract conceptions of justice, whereas feminism is informed by and built bottom-up from lived realities of women.

Is this a line of thinking that you are interested in including? If so, I’d love to contribute. But I would understand if that’s not what you are looking for.

The editor was very understanding, but asked me if I could incorporate these ideas while exploring what the world would look like after the whore revolution. Below is my response.

I don’t know, maybe I don’t have the radical imagination it takes to envision a world post-revolution of any kind, or perhaps my radical imagination is hampered by radical skepticism. My conception of revolution is not a single event or even a series of events that have a beginning and an ending, but the continuous and perpetual process of everyday struggles. It is hard for me to think about the world without rape, for example, because my vision of revolution is one less person experiencing rape and one more person being liberated from fear and shame.

I’ve been wanting to write about what it means to me that I identify as a bottom-up feminist who is deeply skeptical of utopian feminism and is resentful about the societal expectation that activist explain what their ideal world would look like when we are just trying to survive and help each other. But, again, I understand if that is not what you are looking for.

I still appreciate the fact that the editor understood where I was coming from, and told me that my perspective is valuable, even though it might not fit with the theme of the book she is compiling.

What is “intersex”? A response to June42, a woman with Turner’s syndrome

Date: February 14, 2013

This week, someone named June42 contributed a guest post about how she views her place as a woman with Turner’s syndrome in (radical) feminist movement on the controversial lesbian-feminist activist and attorney Cathy Brennan’s blog.

As a long-time activist involved in the intersex movement (former staff at Intersex Society of North America, director of Intersex Initiative, and board member of Advocates for Informed Choice) I wanted to respond to June42’s post as well as to some of the questions that are coming up from readers. But Cathy probably doesn’t want me to comment on her blog, nor do I want to comment there either, so I decided to post my response here.

(In case you are wondering why: I never had any hostile interaction with Cathy before, but last June I saw her attacking a trans woman I know by intentionally using what I thought was her pre-transition (male) name. I wrote to Cathy: “I don’t know if that’s her previous name, but using it feels creepy and reminds me of stalker behavior, not to mention silencing. Say whatever you will about her politics or behavior, but can you please stop that?” She responded “Um, no. ***** [the trans woman’s previous name] is a liar. We point out MISOGYNISTS who THREATEN FEMALES. ***** is one of them. Also, fuck you.” After that, I decided not to interact with Cathy any further.)

I appreciate that June42 is sharing her story, and I agree with her feminist analysis that the medical treatment of intersex conditions (I will discuss more on that category later, so for now please think of it tentatively as a shorthand for any condition that might be considered intersex under some definition) is based on the society’s (which is to say, straight men’s) assumptions about “healthy” or “normal” sexuality and gender relations that are deeply sexist and heterosexist. I also agree that the intersex medical “management” is often experienced as traumatic and damaging by many patients, especially children (see my article, “Intersex Medical Treatment and Sexual Trauma.”)

I am particularly sad that June42 has experienced what disability activist Lisa Blumberg has called “public stripping,” or intersex activists have called “medical display”: a procedure in which children with rare medical conditions are routinely stripped naked or near-naked and exposed to a room full of doctors, interns, medical students, and others, as if it is a freak show. I have known many people with intersex and other medical conditions (like neurofibromatosis) who had to go through this experience, and many report that it was the most traumatizing and shaming aspect of their medical treatment, more so than medically unnecessary genital surgeries. I am sorry that June42 and some other women with Turner’s also had to experience it. And disability and intersex activists are certainly carrying the torch of feminist revolution, as June42 suggests, when we problematize the medical gaze that reduces our organs and bodies to objects to ogle, study, and manipulate.

Now, the difficult question: is Turner’s syndrome an intersex condition? June42 writes that Turner’s syndrome is “incorrectly described as an ‘intersex condition’ by some ‘Queer’ gender theorists,” showing their “complete misunderstanding of [Turner’s syndrome] as a condition,” but it seems to me that queer theorists are more often wrong, generally, about what intersex is, rather than whether or not Turner’s syndrome fits in there. June42 points out, correctly, that the vast majority of women with Turner’s syndrome view themselves as women, and consider the labeling of their bodies as “intersex” to be “profoundly damaging to women […] whose sense of themselves as women has already been undermined.”

But it is not just women with Turner’s syndrome who feel this way; most women and men with intersex conditions do not use the label “intersex” to describe themselves, and often do not consider their condition to be part of the “intersex” umbrella.

There are a couple of problems here. First, there is no single, agreed-upon definition of the term “intersex,” and doctors do not even agree with each other about it–for example, geneticists are more likely to consider Turner’s syndrome as an intersex condition, but endocrinologist or urologist might not. There are only a couple of conditions that pretty much everyone agrees are “intersex,” and the rest of dozens of conditions may or may not be included depending on the definition. That said, the “Consensus Statement on Management of Intersex Disorders” which was adopted by Lawson Wilkins Pediatric Endocrine Society and the European Society for Paediatric Endocrinology does include Turner’s syndrome as a “sex chromosome DSD (disorder of sex development–the term replacing “intersex” within the medical community).”

Second, and more significantly, there is a problem with the word “intersex” itself, which implies that it describes someone who is neither male or female but is something else in between. As June42 points out, this impression is harmful to many people with intersex conditions who do not view themselves as anything other than men or women who have particular health and reproductive concerns. In fact, this was one of the reasons many patient groups and families welcomed the introduction of the term “DSD,” even though many are not entirely happy about the stigmatizing term “disorder” in the new acronym.

The mistake queer theorists and activists often make (as Judith Butler did in her 2002 paper, “Doing Justice to Someone“) is that they do not attempt to understand or address actual lived experiences of people with a specific intersex condition, but treat “intersex” as a homogenous group, or worse, a theoretical tool to advance their own theories about social construction of gender and sex (see my old paper, “From Social Construction to Social Justice: Transforming How We Teach about Intersexuality“).

I use the term “intersex” not as a gender or an identity term, but as a political term, to address commonalities of our experiences of sexism and heterosexism as they inform the medical mistreatment of people who have “different” bodies, particularly those that affect sex development and reproduction. I do not personally identify as an “intersex person” because “intersex” is not an identity label for me, and would not call anyone that way unless they actually identify as such (that said, I sometimes use “intersex person” as a shorthand–and I apologize if I’ve done that to any of you). But I do identify as an intersex and disability activist as well as a feminist, because what I experience in medicine has a larger context that I share with those who do not necessarily share my exact condition.

In the meantime, people who do not have any of these conditions should stop arguing whether a particular condition is intersex or not. Instead, they need to listen to people with these conditions to understand their specific concerns–some of which are similar across various conditions that are considered (and sometimes not considered) intersex, while others may be more unique to people with that particular condition. And generally understand that if you keep talking about “intersex people,” you would in effect exclude many people whom you intend to include (read What Is Wrong with ‘Male, Female, Intersex'”).

Piracy and distortion of my work at University of Washington

Date: January 14, 2013

Last Thursday, I went to University of Washington in Seattle to give a presentation titled “‘War on Trafficking’? Resisting Criminalization as the Solution to the ‘Modern Day Slavery’.” It was scheduled to preempt a big conference on human trafficking that was being held on Friday and Saturday because some people at UW were afraid that the conference was going to focus on ramping up further criminalization to combat “domestic minor sex trafficking” as many anti-trafficking conferences these days seem to, even though the conference actually turned out to be mostly about labor trafficking, labor rights abuses, and fair trade. I attended the conference and plan to report about it too, but there’s something else I want to write about.

After my presentation at UW’s student union building (which was very well attended–thank you very much!), someone started distributing pirated copies of my old article, The Transfeminist Manifesto, before I noticed it. I found a copy myself, and it looked like this:

The Transfeminist Manifesto pirated zine cover

Even though I’ve never published anything that looked like this, many people thought it was my zine, because it had my name on it and did not identify who printed or distributed it.

I personally do not want this particular article to be distributed further, unless it is made explicit that Manifesto is a dated, historical piece. I wrote the article more than a decade ago, and given that transgender community has expanded and changed rapidly over the last decade, I feel that it is no longer relevant. There are also many other texts exploring the intersection of feminism and trans politics, so there is no reason to keep Manifesto around, except of course as a historical artifact.

One of the ways I’ve tried to explain that Manifesto is a historical piece is to include “postscript” at the end of the article to criticize some aspects of the article itself. I included the postscript in the version published in Catching A Wave: Reclaiming Feminism for the 21st Century as well as in my zine, Whose Feminism Is It Anyway?. So I opened the pirated zine to see if they included my postscript along with the main article. This is what I saw:

The Transfeminist Manifesto pirated zine postface

They did include the postscript, but changed the heading to “postface.” According to a dictionary, “postscript” is “an additional remark at the end of a letter” or “an additional statement or action that provides further information on or a sequel to something,” while “postface” is “a brief explanatory comment or note at the end of a book or other piece of writing.” So technically, “postface” seems to be a more appropriate term than “postscript” in this case, but the reality remains: they changed my language and presented the edited version as my work. This worries me (though I do not have the time or energy to read the entire zine to find out what else they have changed).

Further, I found this statement on the back cover of the zine:

The Transfeminist Manifesto pirated zine quote

I have never written “SCUM! KILL KAPITAL! REVOLT!” anywhere, nor is it something I might ever say. And yet, there is no name printed on the entire zine except for my own name on the cover, so most people would think that I wrote that phrase, and I do not want to be associated with it in any way. I am not so much offended by the piracy of my work itself, but this slogan, along with the fact they have edited my words without permission and without clarifying who was responsible for it, offends me.

I don’t know who was responsible for pirating and distorting my work. I would feel a little bit better if it was done by a trans woman, but I doubt it: most trans women understand that Manifesto belongs in a different historical moment, and probably would not distribute it, other than to discuss the history of transgender activism. I imagine that it is not a trans woman, but non-trans people who are so out of touch with transgender community or politics that they found a 13-year old article curiously new and refreshing. They also must not think very much about trans women speaking for themselves if they are willing to “correct” my language without my permission and to add an inflammatory slogan like “SCUM! KILL KAPITAL! REVOLT!”

I hope that whoever was responsible for the incident would recognize how their action was harmful, and work on building true coalition with and amplifying the voices of trans women in their community.

“didn’t know at the time” – a high school romance

Date: January 6, 2013

didn’t know at the time

I finally looked up the whereabouts of my high school band teacher, Miss Jackson. After being transplanted from the streets of a West Coast city to a fundamentalist Christian household in Southern Missouri to “rescue” my soul, I managed to fake my transcripts and was allowed to take four music classes every day, three of which were with her.

I didn’t know it at the time, Miss Jackson was a classical butch woman, with very short hair, undecorative clothes, and independent, tough, dependable personality. Students adored her, especially the girls, because there weren’t any other adult women like her in the rural Missouri town.

My best friend at the time was girl named Helen, who was also taking all four music classes with me. We also went to the same Southern Baptist church, which met four times a week for different activities. I didn’t know at the time that we were practically dating, so we just styled each other’s hair and copied each other’s fashion. On one occasion, we even performed a duet during a Sunday morning service, a deeply romantic ballad about Jesus’ longing for a former believer who has strayed away from the faith.

Helen and I often went to Miss Jackson’s house after school. She lived with a big dog and a housemate, the skinny emo guy, who was probably a gay man when I think about it, but I didn’t know at the time and was puzzled what their relationship was. We watched women’s college basketball on tv (“Go Lady Bears!”) while eating Hamburger Helper, which she cooked like every day.

The year after I graduated, and a year before she was to receive tenure, the school fired Miss Jackson. After some hesitation, adults at the church told me that she was fired due to a “lifestyle problem,” but I didn’t know what it meant. I thought I knew Miss Jackson well, and could not think of any devastating personal secret that could be described as a “lifestyle problem.” Later when I realized what it meant, I felt guilty because I felt like our visiting her may have triggered the firing. But, as I found out recently, she is still teaching music to very lucky middle school students in a different State.

I didn’t know what a butch woman was or even what townfolks meant by a “lifestyle problem,” but she did save my life. And it’s not just because she fed me (and Helen) Hamburger Helpers when I was not eating breakfast or dinner at “home.”

— January 2013

What Businesses Should Know About Service Animals: A Guide

Date: January 5, 2013

[Download PDF]

Many people are confused about what service animals are, or what rights people using service animals have under Americans with Disabilities Act. This document is intended to help businesses understand what obligations they have to customers and members of the public who have service animals under law.

1. Service animals are not pets.

Service animals are different from pets because they are trained to perform tasks to assist persons with disabilities. Service animals must be allowed to accompany their owners wherever people without service animals may enter, even if the premises do not generally allow pets.

2. There are psychiatric service animals, too.

In addition to guide dogs, seeing eye dogs, and other more commonly recognized ones, some service animals are trained to assist people with psychiatric disabilities. The DOJ guideline lists dogs that are trained to calm people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack as an example of service animals that must be accommodated.

3. Service animals do not need to be trained by professionals.

Some service animals are trained by professionals to perform highly specialized tasks and are certified by established institutions. But service animals can also be trained by their owner, and do not need to receive any certification or license to be recognized as service animals.

4. Businesses cannot require any documentation.

Under ADA, businesses are not allowed to require any documentation for service animals such as a certificate or a physician’s letter. They are not allowed to demand people with service animals to “prove” that they are service animals, or to demonstrate their ability to perform tasks.

5. Tags/harnesses marking the animal as “service animal” are optional.

Some people with service animals put a tag or harness that marks their animals as service animals in order to inform other people, but they are not required. It is entirely optional.

6. There are only two questions businesses can ask.

When it is not clear that an animal is a service animal, businesses may ask: 1. “Is this a service animal?” and 2. “What work does the animal do?” Businesses are not allowed to ask what disability the person has, or to demand a proof.

7. Businesses can expect service animal to be under the control of the owner.

People with disabilities are expected to keep their service animals under control (not barking or making a scene) and on a leash (unless it would prevent the animal from performing the task). Also, service animals must be potty-trained. Businesses can ask a person using a service animal to leave the premise if he or she cannot keep the animal under control.

8. Businesses cannot discriminate.

Businesses cannot charge extra fees for people with service animals, even if they charge extra for people with non-service pets. They cannot isolate or segregate people with service animals from other customers, or treat them less favorably.

9. Fear or allergy are not legitimate reason to exclude.

Some people are afraid of dogs or are allergic to dogs, but these are not legitimate grounds to exclude people with service animals. When appropriate, businesses may need to accommodate both customers with service animals and those with allergic reactions, for example by seating them away from each other.

10. People with service animals cannot be singled out.

When service animals cause damages, it must be treated the same way damages caused by people are treated. For example, a hotel may charge for an extra cleaning fee for a mess made by a service animal if another customer who made a similar mess is also held responsible.

This document is based on “ADA 2010 Revised Requirements: Service Animals” issued by U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division.

(Also posted in System Failure Alert!)

Going Places with Your Service Animal: A Guide

Date: January 4, 2013

[Download PDF]

Many people are confused about what service animals are, or what rights people with disabilities have about bringing their service animals to places like buses, restaurants, schools, and other places. Some businesses violate the law when they refuse service to people with service animals out of ignorance, but we can’t demand our rights effectively if we don’t know them better than they do. This guide is designed for people who are interested in going to places with their service animal.

What Are Service Animals?

Service animals must be dogs (with some exceptions) that have been trained to perform a task to assist a person with a disability. They are different from pets, “companion animals,” or “emotional support animals” because they are specifically trained to do something for a person with disability.

Examples of “tasks” given by the Department of Justice include:

  • guiding someone who is blind
  • alerting someone who is deaf
  • pulling a wheelchair for someone
  • protecting someone who is having a seizure
  • calming someone during an anxiety attack (licking, nuzzling, etc.)

Service animals must be trained to do one of these things (or some other task), but they do not need to be trained by professionals. Some organizations train and certify dogs as “service animals,” but you or your friends and family members can train your own dog as well. There is no requirement for certification or registration for service animals.

What Are My Rights and Responsibilities?

Businesses, government buildings, clinics, and non-profit organizations that other people can enter generally must allow service animals. There are some exceptions, but they are very specific (such as an operating room at a hospital).

Service animals must wear a harness, leash, etc., unless these devices prevent them from working. They must be under control (not barking or making a scene) and must be potty-trained (they are able to hold off until they are in an appropriate place to relieve themselves).

What Are Businesses’ Rights and Responsibilities?

There are only two questions businesses are allowed to ask about someone’s service animal: 1. “Is this a service animal?” and 2. “What work does the animal do?” They cannot ask what disability you have, require documentation of any kind, or make you “prove” that the animal can perform tasks.

Businesses cannot charge extra fees for people with service animals, even if they charge extra for people with non-service pets (hotels, airplanes, etc.). They must allow service animals even if they do not allow other animals (restaurants, grocery stores). They cannot treat people with service animal any worse than they treat other customers.

Businesses can ask people with service animals to leave if the dog is out of control, or the animal is not potty-trained, but not just because someone else is afraid of or allergic to dogs.

Businesses can make people with service animal pay for damages their animals cause only if they would also ask customers without service animals to pay for damages they cause.

What Else Should I Know About Service Animals?

Some people make their service animals wear “service animal” tags, harnesses, or jackets. They are not required, but they might stop other people from questioning if your dog really is a service animal. You can buy them at a pet supply store or online.

This document addresses your rights in most places of “public accommodation.” There are different definitions of “service animal” or “assistance animal” for having service animals in housing (including shelters), or for air travel, which might give you more rights. Talk to your friendly disability justice advocate to find out more!

This document is based on “ADA 2010 Revised Requirements: Service Animals” issued by U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division. Download the original document, print out a copy and hand it to ignorant businesses to educate them!

(Also posted in System Failure Alert!)

Roundtable on California’s Prop 35 and “War on Trafficking”

Date: December 24, 2012

I participated in the roundtable discussion about California’s Prop 35 and “war on trafficking” in the current (January 2013) issue of In These Times magazine, which is also available on its website.

ITT Jan. 2013 Cover

Proposal for Bad Date Line 2.0: Text-Based “Bad Date” Blacklist for Sex Workers

Date: December 20, 2012

This is something I thought of today: a text-based “bad date” blacklist for sex workers and people in the sex trade. I know that there are several online “blacklists” out there, along with local “bad date” lists, but this is unique because it can be offered for free, and used from cheap cell phones many street-based workers have.

HOW TO USE:

Using a cell phone, sex workers can text the license plate number, phone number, or email address to a specified number. The text could be something like “5031234567 ?” (phone number 503-123-4567) or “OR*ABC012 ?” (Oregon license plate ABC-012).

The server computer looks up the information in the central database for a match. The worker would receive a response within seconds indicating whether or not there was a match, and if so what kind.

If there is no match, the server would respond with the message “NO RECORD.” If there are matches, it will give discreet codes like “VI” for violent or abusive client, or NC for someone who refuses condom. There may be multiple reports for the same person, in which case the response would say something like “VI NC*2”.

HOW TO REPORT:

When a sex worker experiences a bad date, she or he can text the license plate number, phone number, or email address to a specified number.

When reporting, the worker can include a code to indicate what kind of “bad date” it was, such as:

VI – violent or abusive
NP – no payment
HG – persistent haggler
NS – no show
NC – refuses condom
DR – especially disrespectful
PO – police
ST – stalker
PH – keeps calling, no intent to pay

A worker would send information such as:

5031234567 VI NC = phone number 503-123-4567, violent, refuses condom

OR*ABC012 PH NS = Oregon license plate ABC-012, repeated phone calls without intent to pay and no show.

ADVANTAGES OF USING THIS SYSTEM

  • it can function via text alone, making it easier to use even on cheap prepaid phones; workers don’t have to carry an incriminating piece of paper on them.
  • it can be implemented for relatively cheaply–cheap enough that we can probably get it funded by donations, and offer as a free service to all. (We can probably get it started for $1,000 seed money.)
  • unlike “Bad Date Line,” it doesn’t have to publish the master list (it only responds to the specific number or email address that was inquired).

POSSIBLE PROBLEMS:

  • Someone could make false reports.
    • True, but if someone was led to make a false report, there must be some reason. We don’t guarantee that the information is always correct, but workers can make their own decisions about whom they interact with.
  • Someone who is blacklisted might dispute it.
    • Solution: any client who disputes the information can come to us with a proof of identity, and we would agree to replace the code(s) with “DP” for “report was made, but is disputed.”
  • The record might be used as evidence for prostitution.
    • We won’t keep the record of who is texting us.
    • Also, we could modify the system to make it available to the general public who are going on date with people they met online. That way, usage of the service does not necessarily indicate that someone is doing sex work.

This is the kind of cost that we’d be looking at. I think it’s entirely possible to fund with individual donations.

Is there any tech person who is interested in volunteering with a project like this? Do you know anyone?

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