Friday, August 12, 2011

Exciting News

I'm excited to announce that I will be working with Bay Bridge Productions on several projects in the coming months.

Bay Bridge Productions works in the areas of new media marketing, web development, and general production of Broadway shows, Off-Broadway shows, tours, and independent films. I will bring my skills in the areas of law, photography, and management to help with their existing projects, as well as new ventures. I am thrilled to be working with a group of enthusiastic individuals with incredibly diverse backgrounds in the areas of theatre and film. I would like to specifically thank Laura Wagner and Adam Magazine for bringing me on. I look forward to sharing this work with all of you!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Rant: Why Porn isn't Inherently Evil (The Short Version)

For those of you who are not yet aware, I am a third year student at Brooklyn Law School--this is my last semester of law-related studies, and I am (finally) taking classes that I enjoy. One such class is "Sexuality and the Law," for which we are required to compose weekly one-page response papers where we discuss issues raised in the reading assigned for the class. This week, we read about anti-pornography legislation. Let's just say . . . I got angry in the middle of the assigned reading and wrote a three-page rant, then finished the reading and wrote one paragraph more. I thought some of you might be interested in my perspective, so here it is--imperfect and all.

WHY PORN ISN'T INHERENTLY EVIL (The Short Version): A Response to an Excerpt from MacKinnon's, "Pornography, Civil Rights, and Speech."

Having read and discussed the philosophies of Dworkin and MacKinnon in several atmospheres during the course of my non-legal studies, I came to this reading with a relatively strong pre-existing position. I disagree with both Dworkin and MacKinnon in their view that pornography (even considering that they see pornography as different from erotica) is inherently a form of sex discrimination. In order to reach this conclusion, I first had to define what I meant by “sex discrimination,” an element of the theory that I think is largely left out of the included MacKinnon article.

First, I believe that what MacKinnon is discussing is not actually “sex” discrimination, but is more accurately defined as “gender” discrimination. MacKinnon talks about the “female experience” by describing an average woman’s experience of female-ness within society; MacKinnon does not describe an average woman’s experience of having specific sex organs. Therefore, I believe that the first step to accurately defining the kind of discrimination that MacKinnon speaks of in her article must be re-naming it as “gender discrimination,” rather than “sex discrimination.” (I am leaving aside the problems of talking about such discrimination from ONLY the "average woman's" perspective, rather than a more gender-inclusive one. This is a problem that one can attribute to the time at which MacKinnon is writing, but would require an analysis and contradictory argument of its own.)

Second, we must flush out what it means to discriminate on the basis of gender. The Oxford English Dictionary[1] defines the word “discrimination” as, first, “to recognize a distinction,” and second, “to make an unjust distinction in the treatment of different categories of people.” These two definitions, in my opinion, articulate the core divide between “equality” and “difference” feminism. Equality feminism, in my view, is the belief that gendered women and gendered men are inherently equal in every significant way. Difference feminism, in my view, is the belief that gendered women and gendered men are inherently different from each other, either because of “nature” or because of “society” (or social context). As a result of the divergence between these two theories, the proponents of these viewpoints must hold different ideas regarding the definition of “gender discrimination” (or what MacKinnon calls “sex discrimination”).

Equality feminists would most likely agree with the OED’s primary definition of discrimination as “to recognize a distinction” between individuals. As such, equality feminists would likely apply the OED’s definition of discrimination to the definition of “gender discrimination” by defining the latter term as “to recognize a distinction between individuals based upon gender.” Difference feminists would likely agree with the OED’s secondary definition of discrimination as “to make an unjust distinction in the treatment of different categories of people.” As such, difference feminists would likely apply this definition to that of “gender discrimination” by defining this term as “to make an unjust distinction in the treatment of different categories of people on the grounds of gender.”

According to the first definition of gender discrimination, in order for pornography to inherently fall under this category by definition, it must merely recognize a difference between men and women based upon gender. According to the second definition of gender discrimination, in order for pornography to be discrimination, it must always make an unjust distinction in the treatment of different categories of people on the basis of gender.

Throughout my studies of feminism, I have had difficulty in determining whether I agree with equality or difference feminism. I would like to believe that we live in a world where people of all genders are inherently equal; yet my experience has shown me that our society has influenced our identities to such a degree that we cannot help but develop differently. Regardless, I do not believe that pornography is inherently discriminatory on the basis of gender (or sex) according to either definition of gender discrimination. Not all pornography recognizes a difference between men and women based upon gender, just as not all pornography makes a distinction (let alone an unjust distinction) in the treatment of individuals based upon gender.

It appears to me as though MacKinnon’s description of what she calls “sex discrimination” places her amongst the proponents of difference feminism. Therefore, one might take issue with her theory of pornography based upon her definition of discrimination on the basis of gender (or sex). However, even if I were to agree with the feminist perspective that MacKinnon’s (and Dworkin’s) argument assumes, I disagree with its conclusion that pornography must fall under this definition. In her argument, MacKinnon not only assumes the definition of gender discrimination, but she also assumes the definition of pornography. While MacKinnon admits the second assumption[2], I believe that this definition of pornography is inaccurate and her further use of the term makes it clear that her intent is to apply the word, "pornography," far more broadly than its stated definition. It is at this point that I most strongly disagree with MacKinnon’s argument. Her definition of pornography may yield the conclusion that all pornography is discriminatory on the basis of gender (according to either an equality or difference feminist definition of "gender discrimination"), but I do not believe that this definition is accurate.

I wrote the portion of this paper to this point before concluding the reading; therefore, I was very pleased to then read Duggan, Hunter, and Vance’s article, “False Promises: Feminist Anti-Pornography Legislation,” as their disagreement with MacKinnon’s view also hinges upon the false definition of pornography. My view, however, is not merely that MacKinnon’s definition of pornography was vague (as Duggan, Hunter, and Vance assert), but that her use of the term (and that of the legislature, judiciary, and American culture) went far beyond the scope of the definition that MacKinnon proposed.


[2] “We define pornography as the graphic sexually explicit subordination of women through pictures or works that also includes women dehumanized as sexual objects, things, or commodities, enjoying pain or humiliation or rape, being tied up, cut up, mutilated, bruised, or physically hurt, in postures of sexual submission or servility or display, reduced to body parts, penetrated by objects or animals, or presented in scenarios of degradation, injury, torture, shown as filthy or inferior, bleeding, bruised, or hurt in a context that makes these conditions sexual.” (text p. 448).

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Transgender Hate Crimes: Victims, Their Families & Advocates Speak Out

This is the official flyer for the event. Please forward widely, and consider donating to support the Green/Cannon family's travel expenses--we still need your help!

Friday, September 18, 2009

An Unexpected Education

I came to law school to be a better activist and organizer, but I did not know how a legal education would actually achieve this goal. After taking a series of required classes, I realized that I was amassing an arsenal of tools that I could use to advocate for individuals and groups who are underrepresented in American society; however, I did not yet know how to put these tools into action. In order to learn how to utilize my new skills, I participated in a series of internship programs. While my experience with each of these internships was incredibly rewarding, I only truly began to understand the value of my legal education in the context of community organizing at my most recent position with the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF).

Working at TLDEF has taught me a great deal about the legal profession, generally, and about being a community organizer within that context. While I definitely learned professional skills such as legal writing and research, my most valuable legal education has come from observing the two attorneys in the office, Executive Director Michael Silverman and Staff Attorney Dru Levasseur. They taught me how to competently, responsibly, and respectfully advocate for clients, as well as how to use legal means to achieve broader community organizing efforts.

When I decided to intern at TLDEF, I knew that I would gain a legal education. What I did not realize was that I would also have the opportunity to help represent individuals who would change the way I see myself, as well as my future role as a lawyer and activist.

Thank You, Lateisha

Lateisha “Teish” Green was a twenty-two year old transgender woman who lived in Syracuse, New York, with her mother, Roxanne Green, her father, Albert Cannon, and her nineteen year old brother, Mark Cannon. On November 14, 2008, Teish, Mark (who is gay), and a transgender friend went to a house in their neighborhood where a group of people were hanging out, drinking, and listening to music in the front yard. When Mark drove up to the curb in front of the house, several individuals, including twenty year old Dwight DeLee, began talking about Mark, Teish, and their friend using anti-gay slurs. After this conversation, Dwight DeLee went into the house, retrieved a rifle, came out of the house with the rifle, walked directly to Mark’s car, raised the rifle to the car window, and pulled the trigger. The bullet grazed Mark’s shoulder and hit Teish’s arm; the bullet travelled through Teish’s arm into her chest, causing severe damage that almost immediately resulted in her death.

On July 10, 2009, TLDEF Executive Director Michael Silverman and I went to Syracuse, New York, to represent Lateisha Green’s family during the trial of Dwight DeLee. Andy Marra, a senior media strategist from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), also joined us in Syracuse to work with the media sources covering the trial. Michael, Andy, and I stayed in Syracuse for eight days, where we worked closely with the Green/Cannon family, as well as local community members and advocates.

For more information on the trial and our work in Syracuse, please read my TLDEF blog entries; there are a series of seven entries related to the trial.

Upon arriving in Syracuse, I had no idea what I was about to experience. I thought that I was arriving with an open mind, but as I spent more time with Teish’s family, my assumptions about them, and about myself, became much more evident.

Throughout the week, I learned that the Green/Cannon family does not see gender and sexuality the way that I do. They do not spend hours discussing the nature versus nurture debate, genetic predispositions, or the social implications of gender identity. For them, gender variation simply exists; it is not something that needs to be analyzed. Roxanne Green and Albert Cannon loved their child; whether she was Moses Cannon (her birth name), Lateisha Green (her chosen name), or simply Teish (her nickname), Roxanne and Albert loved and accepted her without question and without hesitation. At one point during the week, Roxanne and I were chatting, and she just looked at me and said something to the effect of, “Parents shouldn’t need to learn to accept their children, it shouldn’t be a question, it just is—they’re your kids, you just love them for who they are.” Albert overheard this conversation and added, “If parents can’t accept their kids, it’s not the kids who need the therapy, it’s the parents.”

Roxanne, Albert, and their entire extended family do not have to label each person’s sexuality; Roxanne refers to all non-heteronormative people simply as “happy.” They do not have long conversations about pronouns, politically correct terms, or labels of gender identity—they just accept people for who they are, without concern for their gender or sexuality.

When I went to Syracuse, I expected to talk about acceptance, understanding, and love; I expected to have long conversations about gender identity, gender expression, and sexuality; I expected to argue for the importance of laws that protect against gender motivated hate crimes. I was not open to learning about these people, I had already decided who they were and how we would relate. I was wrong.

The Green/Cannon family taught me the true definitions of acceptance, understanding, and love. They taught me that acceptance is easy and natural, that hate is what takes energy and effort. They taught me that while intellectual discussions of gender can be valuable, sometimes you have to set them aside in order to achieve true understanding. They taught me that love is not something earned, but something inherent. They convinced me that anti-hate crime statutes are essential, removing any doubt I once had about such legislation, from a place of love and compassion rather than legal analysis.

I went to Syracuse to learn, and I certainly got an education. Not only did I learn the legal lessons that I had hoped for, but I also learned that acceptance, understanding, and love can be the basis for discussion rather than the goal of an exchange. This understanding has helped me re-examine the way that I face interactions with both peers as well as prospective clients, and it has changed the way that I act as an organizer and as a lawyer.

Sharing my Education

After returning to New York, I realized that I saw myself, and my role as a legal advocate and community organizer, much differently than before I went to Syracuse. Now, I see legal advocacy as a means to learn and interact with people and communities with which I am unfamiliar. As a lawyer, I will be able to help these people, but they will also be able to help me; legal advocacy is not a one-dimensional relationship, but an exchange between people who have different skills and experiences. I never got the chance to meet Lateisha Green, but her family has changed my life. I have known for several years that I want to be a lawyer and community activist, but Teish’s family has taught me about the kind of person I want to be while fulfilling those roles.

The many lessons I learned from the attorneys at TLDEF, Andy Marra at GLAAD, the Green/Cannon family, and other TLDEF clients, have changed the way I see myself, my work, and my community. Now, I feel like I have a responsibility to share these lessons with my law school community, legal community, local Brooklyn community, and queer community. In order to do so, I have planned an event that will give attendees the opportunity to learn from all of these individuals. However, this event will also allow the Green/Cannon family to share their experiences with a new audience. When I was leaving Syracuse, Roxanne told me that the trial’s resolution could never bring Teish back; however, she expressed her hope that by sharing her experience, she can help prevent other parents from experiencing the loss of a child because of hatred.

At 7:00PM on October 7, 2009, there will be an event at Brooklyn Law School where Michael Silverman (TLDEF), Andy Marra (GLAAD), the Green/Cannon family, and other victims of anti-transgender hate crimes will share their knowledge, feelings, and experiences with anyone who wishes to attend. However, in order to make this happen, we need to raise money to cover the Green/Cannon family’s travel expenses. Please consider donating by clicking here, and please join us at the event. Thank you.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Hello, interwebs!

My name is Laura Vogel, welcome to my small corner of the web! I am a third year law student at Brooklyn Law School and a freelance photographer, to name the first two things that come to mind. This is going to be my personal blog, where I can talk about topics that interest me, events I'm coordinating, music and bands that I'm into, etc. Stay tuned, it should be a fun ride!