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The US has a prison problem. We imprison considerably more people than any other Western nation; not just per capita, but in absolute numbers. According to the Department of Justice, as of 2012, there were approximately 2.2 million people in jail or prison in the United States - that’s 730 people per 100,000. Many of the incarcerated are imprisoned for nonviolent offenses and those with mental health or substance problems rarely get the treatment they need ‘inside’. This level of imprisonment also leads to an even bigger problem — a cycle of poverty in impacted communities that continues to lead to further hardship and inequality.
In a recent study, it was found that formerly incarcerated youth found it almost impossible to increase their earning power after their release. These limits are found to exist even decades after release, and contribute greatly to the growing income gap between the richest and poorest in the United States.
And the ramifications of this affects more than just the imprisoned, but also their children and families. The children of those who were imprisoned grow up in resource-poor communities, and struggle to create opportunities for themselves as they grow older, as shown in Incarceration and Social Inequality. This means an entire family can be kept in poverty, and will lead to a continuing economic gap in society today.
This imposes a steep price on society and taxpayers, who now have to continue to pay for the increasing numbers of people incarcerated today. The state of California spends more on locking up its residents than providing for its higher education system. According to a study by California Common Sense, a nonpartisan public policy group, in 2011, California spent roughly $4 billion more on prisons than it did on universities, vocational schools, and other forms of higher education. Clearly, something has to be done to enact change.
Pursuing such change is the basis of the Inside/Out Project. This project is bringing the voices of those who have been affected by incarceration into the conversation about how to solve our incarceration crisis. The Inside/Out Project creates a platform for these individuals to voice their opinions, thoughts, and concerns in constructive ways. Our pilot project in San Diego County brought to light some great rehabilitative work that is going on in the FAiR Dorm at Las Colinas Detention Center. By challenging some of the stereotypes of who is incarcerated while bringing effective models to light, the Inside/Out Project is helping those who want to push for change and know what to push for.
AB 1266 is a new California bill approved by Governor Jerry Brown this past August to allow students to participate in school programs and activities, and use the appropriate facilities consistent with their gender identity. Opponents of the bill have submitted a petition to the state to put the initiative on the 2014 ballot; thus, keeping the legislation from going into effect on January 1, 2014. Each of California’s 58 counties was required to count the signatures to verify their validity and determine whether or not they have enough to repeal the law.
Through our TransYouth Speak project, Survivors’ Truths supports young transgender people to raise awareness on the issues they face and challenge the dominant narratives in society about them. Transphobia is a real issue for the transgender community and AB 1266 was enacted to address this. We have learned many transgender students drop out of school because of bullying and other social stresses, but the collective impact of basic logistical challenges such as navigating restrooms can be just as harmful. This law is an effort to ensure all California students can use all restrooms and other gender segregated facilities, and be equally comfortable as any other student.
However, AB 1266 opponents have contested otherwise by making unfounded assumptions of the effects the law will generate. Transgender youth and allies find one of the suggestions that male students will falsely claim a female identity to be allowed into girls’ facilities to be quite silly, but it is many of the people who have less experience interacting with transgender individuals who believe such a scenario is likely to occur. These assumptions fly in the face of the successful implementation of the same transgender policies in the San Francisco Unified District of the early 1990s, and in the Los Angeles Unified School District of almost a decade ago. Happily, there have been no major problems caused by policies granting transgender youth the same rights granted to all students. With precedence, we are assured the negativity directed towards the legislation is based on fear rather than reality.
Regardless, the stereotypes persist. Transphobic pundits continue to offer unsubstantiated arguments to negatively influence those without any knowledge of transgender society into believing false stereotypes and verifiably untrue anecdotal “evidence.” AB 1266 is clearly not an act to promote perversion amongst our children, nor is it an effort to invade a young girl’s privacy in a school restroom. Rather, it is an attempt to pursue equality for marginalized and misunderstood individuals. Our communities are built on equality and acceptance; if we wish to be true to our principles, then AB 1266 should be upheld to maintain a transgender friendly environment.
AB 1266 demonstrates a willingness to move away from unfriendly ideals, but the opposition we are witnessing shows how much more we have to do to bridge the gap.
Liberia. A small nation along the West African coast, and Africa’s oldest republic. That is about all most people know about the country. But there is much to its history. Most importantly in recent years, is a civil war that divided the nation and ended up dragging in the international community to end the intense violence.
Liberia was founded as a modern nation by freed slaves, mostly from the United States, in the 1800’s and spent many decades in apparent stability and harmony. However, the majority of the population was native Africans, with the minority population of those slaves’ descendants making up a mere 5% of the whole population, running things for their own advantage. Social disparity and discontent grew until, in 1980, then President William Tolbert was overthrown in a coup d’état by Sergeant Samuel Doe after food price riots. The coup marked the end of the dominance by the Americo-Liberian minority, and the beginning of a period of instability that culminated with the National Patriotic Front of Liberia entering the capital, Monrovia, and executing Doe.
The battle became an intense, multi-faceted conflict, as rebel groups splintered off and battled one another. Even the United States and the UN had to pay attention to these developments. A peace agreement was signed in 1995, but even this was short lived, with anti-government fighting breaking out in 1999. International pressure by the neighboring countries plus a rebel presence eventually forced then President Charles Taylor to step down into exile. A transitional government stayed in place until 2005, when they finally had general elections.
The bullets may have stopped flying, but the damage has been done. And there’s plenty of damage to go around. The nation’s economy and infrastructure are currently in ruins, corruption is rife, and the nations various ethnic groups remain divided and untrusting of each other. The UN maintains 15,000 soldiers there to this day, making it one of their largest and most expensive deployments. Only when the populace within Liberia heals and can come together will the citizens be able to move forward, and prevent this tragedy from occurring again.
This is where Survivors Truths comes in. We have been working with Liberians for the past seven years to develop new strategies for building “peace from within.” We are bringing together Liberian knowledge and traditions with technological resources to share stories of healing and empowerment and pave the way to a lasting, permanent, peace.
This work can only continue with the continued service of a devoted Liberian team, who are working in challenging conditions with very limited resources. So help us cultivate peace in Liberia with your generosity. With your donations, we are able to bring Liberian voices together. It is only with this support that we can continue to share the stories of the survivors, and help bring them together to cultivate a lasting peace in this war-torn land.
On Thursday, June 28th, in my new role as Project Coordinator of Survivors’ Truths’ TransYouth Speaks project, I attended the first Silver Lake Transgender Task Group meeting at the Sprouted Garden Cafe. LGBTQQ and allied community members attended to discuss how to make Silver Lake safer and more welcoming for transgender folks.
For me, it was refreshing to hear our cisgender (non-transgender) neighbors voice their genuine concerns over the many issues which plague me daily. On a day-to-day basis, as a transgender woman in the community I continually worry about the little things that much of the general public take for granted, like access to restrooms.
One of the more pressing issues the transgender community often struggles with is “Safe access to Public Restrooms.”
Throughout our process of transition, and for some – the rest of their lives, accessing gender-appropriate public restroom facilities can be a stressful, trying, and potentially embarrassing or even dangerous experience.
Sadly, not every city subscribes to California’s general anti-discrimination statute which ensures us access to places of public accommodation free from discrimination.
Silver Lake wants to take the lead and expand on this idea by making it not only apply to public use but also full city-wide implantation of the rule, as well as creating additional gender-neutral facilities free of discrimination and fear.
We also discussed:
AB1121: Focuses on easing the process of modifying gender identification on birth certificates.
AB1266 : This bill would allow our youth to participate in the many sex-segregated programs, facilities, activities and completions. Regardless of their chosen gender identity.
To hear those not directly affected by transgender related issues share their genuine concerns and offer ideas for making the lives of transgender people a little easier created an encouraging environment. Moreover, witnessing the willingness of Silver Lake to act as a forerunner in pushing city-wide change touched my heart.
As time passes, I as a transgender woman am looking forward to bringing you many more great bits of information and outstanding updates going on all around us.
TYS Project Coordinator