This week’s Extra! Extra! looks at the wave of anti-trans legislation making its way around state houses, new research findings that treating people humanely is (in fact) good policy, the state of technology and a whole host of international news.
Himani: South Dakota is poised to become the second state (after Idaho) to bar trans youth from athletics. HB 1217 passed in the state legislature and is awaiting signature from Governor Kristi Noem, who already said on Twitter that she will sign it. In response, over 500 student athletes have asked the NCAA to not host athletic events in South Dakota.
One of the arguments against HB 1217 that has circulated is that it’ll hurt the state’s economy as organizations boycott the state in solidarity with the trans community. It’s sad, though unsurprising, that economic rather than humane considerations are what can tip the balance in these situations. And yet South Dakota Republicans and Noem are plowing forward anyway, which is particularly rich given that this is the same state that has had one of the worst outbreaks of COVID-19 because the governor refused to enforce a mask mandate, much less close the state due to… economic considerations and concerns about individual liberty.
As always, the slew of anti-trans legislation is about sending a clear signal about who is and is not welcome in society, about whose life does and does not carry value, about who can and cannot access basic human rights. Even as many acknowledge that the actual question of trans girls playing in sports hasn’t even come up in the states that are considering anti-trans legislation (because of how small the population is in the first place), the point is the message it sends to the entire trans community about the place they are being afforded in society. The whole thing is incredibly shameful from start to finish.
Rachel: This is part of a pattern trans organizers and activists have pointed out for years – when any step forward is made in terms of access, power or visibility for trans people, we’ll also see a vicious backlash in response to it, both in terms of interpersonal violence against trans people and in terms of policy. These onslaughts of anti-trans legislation, aimed often at young trans people and using language that implies predation and threats to cis kids, will continue — and I’m concerned that in a post-Trump era and when there are so many overwhelming news stories on our minds with the pandemic, these attempts to harm trans kids won’t get the pushback they should.
Himani: Reading this incredibly disheartening news out of Ghana, it’s hard not to see parallels to what is happening with anti-trans legislation in the U.S. that we discussed above. Again, the point is about sending a message to the LGBTQ+ community in Ghana, letting them know that they are not welcome. The context may be different, the actions may be different, the consequences for individuals directly involved may be different. But in terms of how all this affects the community as a whole — I don’t mean to diminish either situation when I say that it feels like they both result in a similar, unsettling sense of unwantedness and displacement.
Himani: After a lot of drama, the COVID relief bill has finally passed in Congress and been signed by Biden. This article is a helpful explainer of what made the final cut of the stimulus package.
Himani: This was a really interesting article, particularly against the backdrop of many lower income countries struggling to access COVID vaccines and also the backdrop of Chile’s constitutional referendum. This is one of those situations where I don’t have a lot of insight to offer, but I think this is an important and valuable read.
Himani: As the global vaccine roll out continues on its lopsided path, this is honestly one of my greatest concerns. I’m known for catastrophizing situations, but… the scientific community has been right so far about the consequences of allowing COVID to spread rampantly. I hope, for all of our sakes, that I’m wrong.
When Evidence Finally Catches Up With What We Knew Was the Right Thing To Do All Along
Rachel: I love the header Himani chose for this section, and also these two stories could easily be grouped under the heading ‘policy directions that won’t be invested in no matter how much science supports them, because despite critics’ claims, the opposition to them has always been based in moral panic, not lack of information or evidence.” There’s never been any evidence-based reason to criminalize sex work, and as several folks on social media have noted wryly, there’s a new study that proves definitively that variations on UBI are hugely effective every year or so. If concerns about evidence were really the roadblock here, these things would be huge gamechangers! But unfortunately until we do something to really uproot our deeply held cultural (and carceral) beliefs that sex work is morally impure and should be punished and that poverty is the result of moral failing and should also be punished, our policy is going to continue to reflect those values.
Himani: Honestly, reading about the results from the Stockton study has been incredibly frustrating. As Rachel said, the underlying beliefs about how people will behave when they’re given “free money” are grounded in moral assumptions rather than any kind of actual reality. And so to see it “confirmed” that oh, I guess people do spend money on food and bills or having a little bit of money on hand does make it possible for people to work more or start new businesses — these really feel like no brainers to me. But what’s even more frustrating is that there actually has been a fairly substantial body of research on UBI in other countries for years now. As Rachel observes, these new findings aren’t going to result in policy change because, as we know from all the challenges with combating misinformation and conspiracy theories, no amount of “reasoning” will change deeply held beliefs.
The Work on the Ground: A Mix of Progress and Setbacks
Rachel: It’s an intense and challenging time for Minneapolis right now — the city is living through the trial of the police officer who killed George Floyd, likely to stretch on for months — the increased police presence and state discourse is broadly re-traumatizing a community just as it also undergoes a trauma anniversary of the pandemic. There’s a lot of distrust and anxiety, as is pretty reasonable — I really recommend this community roundtable from the local Sahan Journal, which is dedicating its coverage during the trial to the community, not the courtroom. A sentiment many of these folks echo (and which I tend to share): “The way the city is preparing right now as if they already know the verdict is scaring a lot of people. I’ve talked to a lot of my friends. A lot of people in my neighborhood that I meet mentioned, Hey, you know, we saw the barbed fences. You know, the wires, all the blockades. They’re scared because they’re like, Hey, does the city know something we don’t? Does the city believe he’s not going to be convicted?”
The MN Reformer piece linked above talks about the ways MN is trying to address those trust issues, including “paid partnerships with “trusted messengers” with a large social media presence to share “city-generated and approved messages” and dispel misinformation” and “cultural radio programs — on KMOJ, WIXK, KALY and La Raza, which reach the African American/Black, Hmong, Somali and Latino/a/x communities” and “using ‘trusted community messengers’ to translate trial-related information.” It’s not that those are bad ideas, but it does sort of reify the idea that the state’s main concern here isn’t justice, but managing the reaction of the population — which both begs the question of what the outcome will be, if they’re assuming a negative reaction, and the question of why these resources can’t be mobilized in other situations that benefit the community, not the state — why is the trusted messenger campaign being mobilized around the trial, but not COVID testing availability and locations, vaccine misinformation or elections?
Also notable, and outlined in the article, is that while “Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said during the first one last week that the city has been planning its response for eight months, and he has been talking to people around the city for several months,” but “a spokesperson for a coalition of 17 activist and community groups said Thursday they haven’t heard from city officials at all” — presumably because that kind of dialogue would put the city in the position of having to answer questions about accountability and systemic change they aren’t prepared to answer. It feels tense and draining to live here right now, and I imagine 100x more so for many residents of Mpls who were impacted by last summer’s state violence more than I was, and feels very much like the city learned to be afraid of its people, but not that the lesson from that is that they have to actually listen to us.
Himani: I found this to be a fascinating read. The main takeaway seems to be this:
“If there’s a productive way forward for TRCs, it’s probably simply as ‘truth commissions.’ Facts can serve as building blocks for awareness, evidence in criminal trials, or talking points in debates about reparations. We can’t know when, if ever, the citizens of Durham or Evanston or Asheville, North Carolina, or Providence, Rhode Island, will undergo the kind of transformation that will remake their communities. But at least they’ll have a better understanding of how the past shapes their present.”
Personally, I think being honest about what happened is far more important than the “reconciliation” part. Or, as Breq put it in Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Sword, “For my part, I find forgiveness overrated.” The article covers this as well, but there seems something so incredibly Western and American to me about this emphasis on forgiveness, and it often comes at the expense of paying proper due to those who have been harmed. It’s also incredibly lopsided: the same group of people always gets to take and take and take and demand the most punitive forms of “justice” for the smallest infractions while another group — also always the same — is expected to forgive even in the face of extreme brutality.
Himani: All I can say to this is — of course they did.
Extremism, Hate Crimes and Technology
Himani: There’s something incredibly disheartening to me that this is the direction of the latest, most cutting-edge technology advancements. I can’t say I’m entirely surprised: as Wan Shi Tong says in Avatar: The Last Airbender, “Humans only bother learning things to get the edge on other humans.” (Side note: Apparently my brain is in sci fi/fantasy media today.) But it’s disheartening nonetheless.
Foreign Policy and International News
Himani: Two weeks ago, Biden authorized an airstrike in Syria and a lot of Democratic politicians were unhappy about it. Last week, he purportedly pulled back on a second airstrike after civilians were spotted in the area the U.S. was planning to target. After 9/11, politicians across the spectrum were all too eager to start war in Afghanistan, and no one has seemed to figure a way out of it. Last year, Trump promised fully withdrawing troops on by May 1 of this year and the Biden administration is debating how to proceed. From what I can tell, there are real drawbacks of exiting at this point, which isn’t to say I’m a proponent of continuing the war. It’s truly an impossible situation. What I struggled to find as I was looking for more information and perspectives on this was perspectives from Afghani people, either living in Afghanistan or abroad, on what the U.S.’s role has been and should be. If anyone reads anything along those lines, please drop that in the comments and I will greatly appreciate it.
Himani: This is a massive human rights crisis unfolding. In addition to this explainer, to understand the extent of the violations that have been committed, I recommend reading about the massacres in Axum and Dengelat last November.
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