The Sport of Coming Out


Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe is the latest in a long line of sports “stars” to come out as gay in an interview with celebrity interviewer Sir Michael Parkinson. It seems to be a sport in itself these days: to play professional sport and reveal that you’re gay. Perhaps a better sport might be to place bets on who will be next. David Beckham? Too good to be true.

But the real question — or the bigger conversation we’re not having — is about the “casual homophobia”, as Kath and Kimactor and out lesbian comedian Magda Szubanski puts it, in sport that stops people like Thorpe coming out — or never having to “go in” in the first place. In the Parkinson interview, he said keeping his sexuality secret was good for his career. He didn’t know if Australia wanted its champian to be gay. The lie was convenient and increased his maketability. He didn’t want to be gay.

It seems this “casual homophobia” is alive and well in more places in society than sport. I would say that there are many people — not just sportspeople — who keep their non-heterosexuality secret because it’s good for their career, they don’t know if their parents and friends want them to be gay, it’s more convenient and easy, socially, to be seen as straight — so no, they don’t want to be gay.

Which begs the question, how far have we come in liberal society, not to mention conservative pockets (religion, Russia etc), in the fight for human rights around sexuality, among other non-normative characteristics like gender (binary and non-binary), functional diversity, even race and ethnicity?

Not as far as we’d like to think, I’d suggest.

Australian Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson was in NZ recently and, according to the NZ Initiative, “argued that human rights are supposed to be sacrosanct principles, and criticised the expansion of human rights from their classical liberal origins.” Freedom, Wilson believes, is “the fundamental human right.” Anything more are social aspirations, which “come at the cost of freedom. While they may be worthy goals, they should not automatically be given equal status to the classical human rights.”

I agree with the Commissioner and have been saying a similar thing, to half-deaf ears it often feels like, in my work on labeling and diversity. The more grounds we add to the list for which we can be accused of unlawfully discriminating upon, the more we highlight difference. The more we highlight difference, the more scrutiny it attracts. The more scrutiny, the more at risk we become of being excluded by others’ prejudice. The more at risk we are, the less fredom we have.

Gay rights did nothing for Ian Thorpe — in fact I would almost say it did him a diservice. I’m not saying that gay rights are wrong or bad or shouldn’t have happened, nor that they haven’t improved the lives of some people. But, as Tim Wilson points out, gay rights come at the cost of the freedom to not have our sexuality put under scrutiny.

I was telling a friend a few days ago that, when I was seventeen, some thirty years ago, on the cusp of homosexual law reform but a decade and a half before gay human rights legislation was passed, I wore a badge at school saying, “How dare you assume I’m heterosexual”. Not out then, when people asked whether I was meaning I wasn’t straight, I clarified that the point of the messagee was the emphasis on “assume.” Now, whether I had automatic immunity from homophobic slurs due to my unique function, I’m not sure, but I’m also unsure I’d feel as comfortable wearing that badge as a student at school now.

Why not? Because the scrutiny of sexuality would put me at risk of other students’ prejudice. I’ve heard stories that it’s harder to be queer at schools today than it was decades ago, simply because kids are more aware. Such is the shadow of liberation; such is the cost to freedom.

I titled this post “The sport of coming out.” Perhaps it could be more aptly titled “The cost of coming out,” or even “The sport of catching someone coming out.”

How far have we really come?


Ebola Aid Workers and Donald Trump: The Best and Worst of Humankind

Trump tweet

On Saturday, Donald Trump tweeted that ‘The U.S. cannot allow EBOLA infected people back.” He qualified this by saying that “People that go to far away places to help out are great- but must suffer the consequences!’ This was in response to the news that two American medical missionaries had contracted the virus whilst helping infected people in Liberia.

There are numerous problems with Trump’s comment. Firstly, it reveals Trump’s lack of medical knowledge. I am, of course, assuming that this tweet was prompted by Trump’s belief that if people with Ebola arrive in the U.S.A. then others will become infected. (Although, given his blatant disregard for fellow-man, I would not be shocked to discover that he does not want them to return for more sinister reasons).

However, as horrific and deadly as the Ebola virus disease is, it is not airborne and can only be passed through close contact with blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids. Another important consideration is that if the two American workers were to return to the U.S.A., they would be treated in one of the most medically advanced and well-resourced hospitals on the planet.

Trump then retweeted a post from @BigBoie7531 which said: ’To all the liberal do gooders, this is the Plague you idiots! No cure!’ Whilst @BigBoie7531 is indeed correct that there is no cure for Ebola, you will be surprised to learn that he is not a leading medical authority. In fact, he has no medical qualifications at all, further undermining Trump’s argument.

Aid Workers and volunteers who dedicate their lives to alleviating the pain of their fellow-man, regardless of whether they live next door or in “far away places”, comprise the very best portion of humanity. They are not motivated by fame, money or even success, but rather a belief that every human life is precious- even Donald Trump’s. It’s very simple; the primary aim of Humanitarian Workers is to save lives. Thankfully, the decision to return the workers does not rest in Trump’s hands and both workers have returned to the U.S.A.

Trump should be supporting, in every way possible, the work that these people do, for it is they who counter-balance the destruction and death caused by un-constrained, self-serving, corporate greed. Whilst the likes of Trump make you despair at the world, aid workers remind you that, amidst all the injustice, there still remains a lot of beauty.

Perversely, we live in an age where one tweet by Donald Trump can gain worldwide media attention, whereas the mind-blowingly brilliant work of Aid Workers goes largely unreported. So in an attempt to begin to address this imbalance, I want to highlight the work of just a few Aid Workers, to whom we owe our thanks and praise:

  • Sarah* is a Humanitarian Aid Worker who has been working in Baidoa in Somalia for 17 years. Sarah has worked tirelessly to relieve the famine conditions that exist in that area. She has helped establish Nutrition Centres to treat 20 malnourished children per day. Sarah has seen hundreds of people die right before her eyes due to a lack of food and, whilst she says she gets very frustrated that more is not being done by the humanitarian community to save lives, she has never given up on her work. (
  • Two weeks ago, two female Finnish Aid Workers were shot dead in Herat, Afghanistan whilst on the way to their office. The women had been in Afghanistan to provide medical aid, education and economic support. They were part of an organization who support the locals with individual development projects.
  • And we of course cannot forget the Humanitarian Workers who, as I type, are entering Gaza during the brief seven hour ceasefire. They go, knowing the catastophic instability; knowing that UN schools have been destroyed; knowing that no one is spared from the indiscriminate bombing. It’s almost impossible to truly comprehend the sacrifice they are making.

Last year 155 Humanitarian Aid Workers were killed. They were murdered as a consequence of  wanting to help. That is 155 grieving families. A further 168 were injured, and another 134 were kidnapped. Now, in addition to all that, they have prominent figures like Trump suggesting that they aren’t worth saving while basically arguing the sacrifice must be theirs and theirs alone.

Luckily, as terrible as you are Donald, there are people out there who, if you were to get infected with a life threatening and contagious illness, would still put their egos and sense of self-importance aside to help you recover. And to those people we owe everything.

Looking at Labeling and Diversity: Interview with Philip Patston

Recently, I had to the opportunity to catch up with Philip Patston who is a phenomenal speaker, advocate, and expert on diversity and labeling. Philip is also one of Social Work Helper’s expert columnists who offer readers a global perspective hailing from Auckland, New Zealand. Although he is located on the other side of the world, Philip helped me to realize through his writing and speaking the symmetry we all (human kind) share versus focusing on our differences.

Philip has traveled an interesting path and has seen the world from different lenses such as a counselor, comedian, and advocate to name a few. After viewing his Ted Talk with over 30,000 views, I wanted to learn more about Philip. We had an interesting conversation, and now I am going to share it with you.

SWH: Tell us a bit about your background and what led you into the field of social work?
Philip Patston at Tedx Auckland
Philip Patston at Tedx Auckland

I began a Bachelor of Arts degree majoring in Psychology and Sociology aged 18, but hated the University environment, so I quit early in my second year. I then trained to be a phone counsellor and ended up counselling by phone for nine years. I had also been a member of a youth group since my mid-teens and had been “dropped” into leadership roles (e.g. turning up at youth work meetings and being told to get up and speak about the youth group). So I did a lot of youth development work in my late teens and early 20s as well.

Then in 1990, when I was 22, I was accepted onto a two-year Social Work programme which gave me a Certificate of Qualification in Social Work and a Diploma in Applied Social Studies. The programme was known to be quite radical. There were only 40 students per year, half of whom were Maori (the indigenous people of NZ or Tangata Whenua, literally “people of the land”), a quarter Pacific people, and a quarter “other” (known as Pakeha in the Maori language).

It was an immersive bi-cultural programme, deliberately making Maori culture dominant. There were huge conflicts, particularly among the Pakeha group, who felt aggrieved by many processes in which they were not the majority. Being gay and disabled, I was fairly used to not being in the majority, so I was quite comfortable and amused by some of my colleagues’ inability to step outside of the process and learn from the experience of the tables being turned.

During my first year, I did a placement in a government care and protection agency and realised it wasn’t my thing. My second year placement was doing social research on the needs of disabled people for the Auckland Health Board. That turned into a two or three year job. After that I worked for the Human Rights Commission for four years, after which I became self-employed, raising awareness of diversity and doing comedy professionally.

So, I never really got to actually be a social worker! But the Diploma programme gave me a great grounding in radical social theory and direct action. If anything, I was an activist. Running awareness workshops as well as doing comedy, which led me to have a very high profile in New Zealand through television in the 1990s and 2000s, were a great combination of vehicles to create change.

SWH: Would you identify your work as being macro and/or mezzo focused, and what advice would you give other social workers who would like to do the work you are doing?

People have likened me to Nietzsche over the years so, yes, I do work in the macro/mezzo realms, I guess! I think it’s a hard place to feel effective because like any leadership or social change activity, it’s a long game and hard to see any tangible evidence of success. My suggestions for others working in similar spaces? Find like minds and check in regularly. Drink wine. Celebrate any success however small and, every now and then, pretend you’ve had a huge success and celebrate that! Finally, read Getting to Maybe: How the World Is Changed — the best book on social entrepreneurship and social change ever written.

SWH: Who are some of your biggest influencers in how you filter, provide and give information/advice to others?

Some of my favourite thinkers in the work I do are the authors of Getting to Maybe, Sir Ken Robinson, Brene Brown, Peter Block, Kathryn Schulz, and Adam Kahane. I also love Onora O’Neill’s definition of trust. Another fave is Prof. Brian Cox – he’s a cute, English educational physicist and I’ve used his layperson explanations of entropy and physics to explain diversity and relationship dynamics to school students. Finally, Sue Davidoff and Allan Kaplan, from The Proteus Initiative in South Africa. I’ve worked with them on living social practice twice now and they’ve had a profound influence on the way I work with people about diversity.

SWH: Your Tedx Talk on Labeling was a huge success. What was that experience like and what has life been like after your Tedx Talk?

It was surprisingly intimidating and nerve-wracking. Being a regular viewer of TED Talks, it really felt like I was wheeling into a TED video! Those big red letters and the round red carpet are quite iconic. I had refused to rehearse because as a comedian I would only ever rehearse mentally, so the guys running it (who hadn’t seen me perform) were a bit nervous and told my PA, Wai, who was backstage. Wai said, “Nah. he’ll be fine,” and halfway through they apparently said, “He’s killing.” Wai: “Told you so!”

Probably the most significant thing though was being able to present what I would call my soul work to 2,000 people live, in a funny, entertaining way, and have it videoed and put online under the TED brand so that it’s had over 30,000 views. That’s a great privilege.

Life after TED? Well, I did a conference call with the Diversity Group of IBM in California, which was a bit of a fizzer, and I’ve had a few speaking and facilitation jobs as a result. Not life-changing on the big scale of things, but definitely a highlight

SWH: Are you further developing your work on labeling, and do you have any other projects you are working on or have recently finished?

I recently made a music video about labelling that I’ve used a lot in diversity workshops. Music is a powerful way to simplify topics that can be quite complex, in order to have a conversation about the complexity. I was really lucky to work with an extremely talented musician, Arli Liberman, who put my words to music; and then some friends who run a superb creative agency, Borderless Productions, came up with the concept and produced the video. I’ve also recently finished some work on diversity in the media and co-wrote and published a children’s book.

Right now, I’m in an interesting space of limbo. Apart from running a leadership programme, which I love and is in its fourth year, a lot of my projects have either come to an end or have lost funding (we’re in an election year in NZ so Government funders have become super risk averse, unfortunately). So I’m in a space of seeing where I will be taken next. I’d love to make some more music videos, but they’re quite expensive and hard to get funded, even via crowdsourcing. I funded the first one myself, which meant I had a complete creative license and no accountability — that was extremely liberating!

So what’s next on the bucket list…oh and I started writing a book earlier this year and I am stuck big time. I need to give myself a good talking to and hopefully, I’ll get back into that soon too!

Seeing Beyond the Negative: How Understanding Culture Adds Perspective


Whilst working in local authority (Child Welfare Agency) as an auditor and conference chair, I have been involved in several child protection cases involving North Korean families. Child abuse is a complicated issue and there is much research on families in the UK from different cultural backgrounds and a lot of information can be found by looking at the Serious Case Review Biannual Analysis which is what I often do when researching issues to do with child abuse. As social workers we are often focused on some of the most difficult aspects of humanity, and our need to find out what the negatives are almost prevents us to see what the positive aspects of people’s worlds and cultures are.

Serious case reviews are a well researched government sponsored data gathering which is put into information which is easy to assimilate and not full of academic jargon based on class room discussions. The Biannual Analysis deals with real families that we as practitioners work with every day, unfortunately these reviews consist of children and families struck by tragedy. What did the Biannual Analysis tell me about North Korean families? Much in social work is based on hunches and anecdotes, my current inquiry was why are so many North Korean families being referred to children’s services and why was the nature of the child abuse so similar? I have not been able to find any information that can help me which might be a good thing bearing in mind the criteria that cases are submitted for SCR’s.

I have been involved with cases which have similar factors, they show the impact of parents who as children were abused or had harsh treatment in their past, and who may also have had recent post traumatic stress from possible torture or fear and anxiety of retribution or separation from family who may be at risk back home.

Also, I made an information request to the ICS department, ( ICS is our data capture system)which did not show huge numbers subject to child protection plans, but certainly showed significant numbers of children who are subject to child welfare services. This particular local authority has a high number of North Korean families. Other facts about their circumstances and child in need support may provide us with some interesting insights into these families who have sought refuge in a far away country.

As a social worker I am challenged to look after my wellbeing by eating healthy food, however local to where I work, there is a great Japanese street food restaurant that does fast take away orders. This is where I normally grab something to eat, served by the same familiar woman who takes my order and shouted it out in what I thought was Japanese to chefs busy cooking on open fires in a row of street kitchens.

Almost suddenly in these times of austerity in London, a new Japanese restaurant opened around the corner to my office and as I have no commitment to anyone place I tried it out and began ordering my take away from the new place. A few months later a familiar face greeted me in the new restaurant, the smiling friendly face of the lady who formally shouted out my order with limited softness of face, in the bustling open street kitchen.

She greeted me like a long lost friend and was pleased to see me in the shop that she was now working in. She seemed very much more relaxed, possibly because the restaurant was fairly new and did not have as many customers as the street stall and she could actually have a conversation with me instead of the conveyor belt like system which kept the street kitchen lively and cheap.

Mi Yung and I started talking about her journey to Britain, and I was overwhelmed by her declaration about how she did not care if she woke up and it was raining (in Britain we moan about the weather) she was happy when it rained because she had the freedom to work where she wanted and to stand up to her bosses if she felt that her rights were being impinged. She had loved working in the street kitchen but the quickness of the serving had not allowed her to talk with people and this was what she wanted to do more than ever.

Her journey to freedom was based on the need to interact with people when she wanted and to be truly happy, working in this new restaurant meant that she could grow in a way that most people who are born into less restricted societies take for granted. And although she needed a job she expressed to me the need to work somewhere that she could be free and meet and greet the world.

Now, my inquiry is much more based on the positive aspects of the North Korean society in the area; how to mobilise the positive aspects of people like Mi Yung who see the world with eyes based on growth not just on past abuse or being stuck in trauma. Understanding culture is important for social workers, but we do not always need to learn from negative occurrences of adult violence or child abuse.

We can learn by understanding and interacting more with people who have come through adversity attempting to catch glimpses of how they remain resilient and what aspects of their positive worlds can aid those who are not so able to let go of their past. In terms of child protection the local authority should talk to people like Mi Yung to gain an understanding or what support can be put in place to aid and support North Korean families. With regard to social workers intervening with families of similar backgrounds, this lively discussion seems to have been missing in the past decade of social work transformation.

Malala Yousafzai and Women’s Rights in Islamic Countries


Women in Muslim countries often do not have the same rights and privileges as women in the West such as the right of education or the right to employment. Author, activist, and survivor Malala Yousafzai is a perfect example of the challenges and barriers Muslim women face in Islamic countries. In her native country of Pakistan, women and young girls were denied the right to education. Malala Yousafzai begins to speak on every media platform available to her on the importance of education.

An outspoken critic of the Taliban’s tactics in her native Swat Valley from a young age, Malala was the subject of an attempted assassination at the hands of a Taliban gunman because she was unafraid to speak out.

Then, at just 14 years old, a Talib fighter boarded her bus, pointed a pistol at her head, and pulled the trigger. But she survived, made a full recovery in England, and has become and transformative figure in human rights.

Now, she is poised to become the youngest Nobel Peace laureate ever.  Read More

Modern women in the West have the same rights and privileges as men such as the right to jobs, pay, and education. They have the right to vote in elections and engage in politics. Western women can wear whatever they want, and their freedom of expression is not a criminal act.

Women can drive, cut their hair and join in sports events, and cheating on your spouse is not cause for a death sentence. All these things when spoken aloud (or, in this case written) may seem ridiculous, but they are just a small part of the rights they may not accessible to Muslim women.

In Muslim countries, these rights are taken away from women and doubled to men. It is legal to beat your wife if she doesn’t listen to you or argues with you. A few years ago, another article appeared in the news about a Norwegian woman who was studying in Dubai. While at home, four guys around her age got into her room and raped her. Later, she went to make a report to the police. Unfortunately, she was not able to bring an accusation against them in the absence of having no male witnesses. What’s shocking about this case, she was charged and faced six months in prison for having unlawful sex.

Religion’s main function is to unite people for good and not to separate them from ‘lower’ or ‘higher’ class of human beings. We’re all the same, no matter our skin color, appearance, or sex. Maybe most of us do not understand Islam, but the truth is social evils in today’s society such as oppression, domestic violence, and the abuse of women are not confined to any one race, religion, or region of the world.

Malala Yousafzai made an appearance on Jon Stewart to talk about women’s rights, education, and her book “I am Malala”. Most importantly, she continues to advocate for equality for Muslim women. View the video below:

CSWE Film Festival Series: Finding Refuge

by Maya Navon

refugee placard

Finding Refuge emerged from an extremely challenging yet life-changing college course. When the three filmmakers entered the course “Producing Films for Social Change,” we had no idea that we were about to begin an emotionally charged, fast-paced, and eye-opening period of our lives. In September 2012, we did not know how to use a camera, edit a clip, or even write a treatment.  Over the course of 3.5 months, we learned each and every aspect of creating a film, from the research stage to post-production, and emerged with a 20-minute piece that we were proud to share.

The idea for Finding Refuge stemmed from a class discussion about the topic of refugees. Armed with this very broad topic, we preceded to contact various refugee organizations. After weeks of trying to find just the right niche in this realm, we finally made a breakthrough with the connection to Natasha Soolkin, director of the New American Center in Lynn, MA. We knew that we wanted to focus on refugee resettlement in the United States; particularly, the various challenges and triumphs newly resettled refugees face when they arrive in the United States. However, we also knew that this topic would have no impact without a personal story. We needed a refugee to share his or her experiences, and it would be no small feat to find someone. Luckily, Natasha had just the person for us who would bring a voice to this issue: Mani.

Once we connected with Mani, the documentary finally took shape. We spent countless hours interviewing Mani and his family, touring his home and office, and getting a glimpse into his new American life. We also spoke to a wide variety of experts and workers in the field of refugee resettlement to gain a broader understanding of the journey from a place of turmoil to a new life in the United States. In a few months we had our final product: a piece shedding light on refugee resettlement through the story of one courageous, hard-working, and resilient man.

Our connection with Mani extended far beyond filmmaker and subject. He touched our lives with his story and made us realize the true meaning of strength. After spending 17 years in a refugee camp, Mani managed to keep his spirit and his thirst for success alive. The perpetual smile on his face reminded us to always stay positive, even in the face of hardship.

Transgression: Transgender and Undocumented

by Daniel Rotman

Team Transgression

While working with Immigration Equality, I discovered the stories of numerous transgender clients battling for asylum in the United States. Transgression’s formation began in summer 2011. I had a fellowship funded by the Traub-Dicker Fellowship at Harvard Kennedy School’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy with Immigration Equality, an organization that provides legal assistance and advocacy for LGBT individuals. At the culmination of the fellowship, I needed to write a lengthy thesis about a policy issue he encountered at Immigration Equality.  When I returned to Harvard at the end of the fellowship, I had an idea: create a documentary to showcase the plight of transgender detainees as a more effective and powerful educational piece. With the permission of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, he proceeded with planning for the documentary.

I entered a competition at Harvard Law School’s Documentary Studio Lab, which funds amateur documentary projects. Harvard Law had recently launched the campus-wide competition to encourage amateur documentary filmmakers to film a short documentary on a policy issue. Transgression was chosen as one of the finalists and received funding support and permission to use the Lab’s film equipment to create the documentary. I approached his close friend and colleague, Morgan Hargrave, to join the team as a writer/co-director. Harvard Law Studio connected me with Morgan, T. J. Barber an experienced editor completing his freshman year at Harvard, and Toni Marzal a writer completing a master’s program at Harvard Law School. The team received the support of Immigration Equality to focus the documentary on one of its clients, Norma, and the crew filmed in New York for one week. Post-production took 2 months as the crew managed full-time school schedules.

Due to the sensitivity of the subject matter, it was difficult to maintain a balance of capturing the full scope and depth of the story while respecting Norma’s pain as she recalled her experience. It was surprising to see Norma’s openness and fearlessness in telling her story, despite her difficult memories. Team Transgression tried to exercise caution with regard to revealing anything that would jeopardize Norma’s immigration status. Fortunately, there was little that the team needed to avoid including in the film. The film is in English, but Norma’s first words are in Spanish.


Honoring the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington: National Action Network Press Release


(Washington, DC)–Reverend Al Sharpton, President of National Action Network (NAN), and Martin Luther King, III, President of Realize the Dream, and the eldest son of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., have announced that fifty-years-after Dr. King delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington in 1963, they will mount the same steps at the Lincoln Memorial to lead the 50th Anniversary March on Washington National Action to Realize the Dream on Saturday, August 24, 2013. Joining them will be a cross-sector of speakers ranging from House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi to the family of Trayvon Martin.

In light of the recent Supreme Court ruling negating a key section of the Voting Rights Act, the ruling in the George Zimmerman case, and other current and crucial civil rights issues, march organizers will push for immediate action from Congress. Jobs in the black community are stuck at over 13 percent and there must be pressure applied to Congress to create jobs. With questions in the criminal justice system in the national spotlight, from Stop and Frisk police tactics in New York, to Stand Your Ground laws in Florida, there is a real concern about the state of Blacks in the justice system. There must be a mandate that 50-years after fighting some of the same battles, there must be a continuation march not a commemoration march.

Joined by an alliance of prominent advocates of labor, health, housing, education, media, and civil and human rights, the purpose of the march is not just to celebrate the historic 1963 March on Washington, but to galvanize the American people around the compelling issues of today including women’s issues, immigration, workers’ rights, LGBT equality, among others. Congressman John Lewis, the only one of the six leaders of the March on Washington of 1963 that is still alive has agreed to stand with Rev. Al Sharpton, Martin Luther King, III and thousands of others at the historic event.

Among the speakers and groups joining with Rev. Al Sharpton and National Action Network, and Martin Luther King, III are: the families of Trayvon Martin and Emmett Till; Congressman John Lewis; Nancy Pelosi, House Democratic Leader; Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer; Randi Weingarten- President, American Federation of Teachers (AFT); Lee Saunders- President, AFSCME; Janet Murguia- President, The National Council of LaRAZA; Mary Kay Henry- International President, Service Employers International Union (SEIU); Dennis Van Roekel, President, National Education Association (NEA); and many others.

Speakers will be listed on theNational Action Network website in the near future (

Participating groups include but are not limited to: The King Center, A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI), NAACP, NAACP LDF,National Council of Negro Women, National Urban League (NUL), Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), NationalCoalition on Black Civic Participation (NCBCP), Tom Joyner, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Communities Without Boundaries International, Inc. (CWBI), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), 1199 SEIU, United Federation of Teachers (UFT), United Here, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, American Federation of Government Employees, AFGE, Military Families Speak Out, Fair Vote, United for Peace & Justice, Veterans for Peace, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, NationalCongress of Black Women (NCBW), , National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Inc. (NCBW), Black Women’s Health Imperative, Human Rights Campaign (HRC), National Black Justice Coalition, Family Equality Council, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Old Lesbians Organizing for Change, League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), The Hip Hop Caucus, Operation Hope, Impact Black Youth Vote, Our, Skinner Leadership Institute and many others.  The National Action to Realize the Dream March is one of the many events taking place August 21st through August 28th to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington.  Visit for a full listing of official events.

According to Rev. Sharpton and Martin Luther King, III, many Americans including those who have faced a history of exclusion—people of color, poor whites, women, workers, immigrants, LGBT’s—are still disproportionately represented in many negative socioeconomic categories like poverty, poor education, unemployment, underemployment, loss of labor rights, inadequate health care, unfairness in the justice system and voter suppression. “It is the intent of those that come together to make it clear that this is not just a nostalgia visit, that this is not a commemoration but a continuation and a call to action,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton. “We are in a climate that is threatening too much of what was achieved 50 years ago.”



Government Access to our Electronic Data

by Michael Morgan


There have been some recent law enforcement moves meant to retrieve information coming from the Internet in order to prosecute people. A US law enforcement agency issued a subpoena from the prosecutor’s office to gain access to electronic communications of a person, citing sections from a 1980s law, which was created long before the Internet became popular. Law enforcers wish to show that the law still has teeth and that it can be marshaled to prosecute offenders by using any electronic communication like IP phone service as a means to put them in jail. Is government access to our electronic data without our knowledge a violation of our constitutional rights?

Subpoena Results

The subpoena was given to an electronic mail provider and to a popular social networking website who reviewed the subpoena. It takes legal action to combat legal action so they simply ignored the papers issued by the prosecutor’s office. In short, the law enforcement agency never got hold of their request because of the exercise of civil disobedience from the email provider and from the social networking website.

Wrong Documentation

They presented several reasons why they declined the request. In the first place, the affected providers pointed out that the law, which was drafted in the 1980s, doesn’t cover the current electronic communication that exists in the present. In addition to this, they pointed out that the subpoena is not a proper document that will enforce them to open their servers to the requesting department.

Ignorance Not an Excuse

The law can very tricky. When law enforcement agencies want swift action, what they do is coordinate with the justice department to issue out the necessary papers. A search warrant is a legal document issued by the judge who will enforce a receiving department or agent to open their servers for search and seizure purposes. Once the evidence that’s enumerated on it is found, it will be used against the person in a court of law. However getting a search warrant takes time and a judge makes it a point not to carelessly issue out such documentation. The police department must make a notable presentation that it’s really needed. Assumptions of an offense are not given any weight by the court. There must be strong proof that a person has electronic communications using a specific mail server or social networking website in order for a judge to issue out a warrant.

Work around the Law

Law enforcement agencies prefer to do go around this. Instead of waiting for a warrant, they would go directly to a prosecutor to request for a subpoena. The prosecutor’s office works directly with law enforcement and they are the ones responsible in issuing out subpoenas for this purpose.

Bullying Not Effective

When the affected Internet providers received the subpoena, they used the document itself as their defense. Instead, they pointed out that a subpoena isn’t enough for them to open their servers to the law and bridge the privacy of their users. As Internet providers they have a responsibility to protect the personal privacies of their clients and being issued a mere subpoena isn’t going to make them budge. Law enforcement will need to obtain a search warrant in order to gain access to the electronic data they want to review.

Respect to Personal Privacy

It is nice to note is that our Internet providers, social networking, and mail websites value our personal privacies, and would take action to protect our electronic data from unwanted searches and seizures. The practice of civil disobedience is necessary in order to prevent misuse of the law to gain access to our personal information.

Housing in Blue, Homeless in Red


Today public housing continues to exist, but eligibility and aid depends on one’s location. While the federal government has developed nation-wide programs, states and local agencies provide the actual housing to their citizens. A state must follow the federal guidelines but can determine how much aid it receives, and each state can set some of its own guidelines in terms of preferential treatment and eligibility. All this means that one’s state of choice, particularly the choice between a red or blue state, will determine his or her level of aid in terms of public housing.

Before looking at the differences at state level though, let’s cover today’s policies. The basic principles of public housing today have stayed consistent with the policies beginning in the 1960’s when civil rights were first being incorporated. In 1974, Nixon created the Section 8 Rental Assistance Program, which is still very much alive today. The program provides rental certificates for low-income families to use to pay a portion of their rent on privately owned units. This was a change from the past policies because it allowed low-income families to break away from large public housing facilities and instead lease private units. At the time, families were expected to pay 30 percent of their income toward rent and utilities and then HUD, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, would cover the rest as long as it was under the maximum aid level. It seemed that the 1960’s brought positive changes, but in the 1980’s housing programs were dramatically cut. The 1990’s saw a huge increase in the need for homeless shelters due to the lack of public housing. Today, while subsidizing of housing projects has continued to decline, more rent vouchers and Section 8 certificates are being handed out each year.

But how have the changes come about in different states? Massachusetts is viewed as the prime example of a blue state and has one of the best public housing programs in the country. This is generally because Massachusetts applies for and accepts a great deal of federal funding. In addition, the state has low qualifications in terms of who can receive public housing assistance. For example, in order to qualify for the Section 8 Rental Assistance Voucher, one must simply show records of being a good tenant in the past and take in 80% or less than the median income in their community. Statewide, the income limit to qualify as a single person is $45,100 annually.

Texas, on the other hand, is viewed as a strong red state and is not highly prized for its public housing program. In fact, the state accepts much less federal aid and therefore has a much smaller public housing budget than Massachusetts, despite having a population four times the size of MA. Additionally, a single person must take in $33,650 annually or less in Texas to qualify for public housing aid. While the eligibility is calculated based upon the state’s median income; there are large gaps in terms of eligibility between states. In addition, the private sector in Texas has refused to aid low-income families in terms of housing. This means that citizens must rely solely on public sector housing, much of which is in poor condition as, in general, it has not been updated since the 1930s.

While in many eyes the Texas system is flawed, those in opposition to public housing would support Texas over Massachusetts. Many believe that public housing gives people a crutch and allows them to take unearned money. Others argue that public housing should have a time limit so that people have an incentive to work hard and get off the aid. While one can hope that one day public housing programs will no longer be needed, it should be not out of lack of funding or desire, but instead because it is no longer needed.  Until that day though, housing is a basic need that needs to be met regardless of race or income.

While public housing is a federally supported program, it is run by the local public housing authorities. It is up to the PHAs to determine how their public housing system will be run. The federal government applies a base funding to all, but when more funds are available, states can apply for more money. This often means, out of each state’s own choice and differences in opinions about public aid, that blue states will have larger public housing budgets than red states. Therefore, it is clear that a low-income family is much better off living in a blue state.

The right to a quality home should not, however, depend on one’s exact location within the United States. As a social worker, it shall be one’s duty to advocate for adequate housing for all, as shelter is a basic human need. For, as Cohn said, “this country has room for different approaches to policy. It doesn’t have room for different standards of human decency.”


Cohn, J. (2012, October 25). Blue states are from Scandinavia, red states are from Guatemala: a theory

of a divided nation. The New Republic. Retrieved from

HUD. (n.d.). Housing choice vouchers fact sheet. Retrieved from

Mass Resources. (n.d.). Public housing. Retrieved from

Texas Housing. (n.d.). Public housing in Texas. Retrieved from

Photo Credit:

Human Rights in the LGBTQ Community of Malaysia

Malaysian law, policies, and practices violate the internationally protected human rights of LGBTQ individuals within societies. The Human Rights Commission (HRC) has raised multiple issues in the past, and since its running, regarding awareness of human rights-related issues. Additionally, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) has contributed significantly for the fighting for human rights in general, but also in particular, the human rights of LGBTQ individualsin an international level.

Prime Minister Najib, in Malaysia, in July, 2012, gave public speeches regarding new policies and measures that will aim to the social coherence of the community. Within those speeches he claimed for discrimination against LGBTQs, while at the same time he contradicts himself to his self-proclaimed profile as a ‘global moderate’ leader.

The policies and government actions that discriminate agaist the LGBTQ community in Malaysia right now, amongst other concepts, include: the shutdown, by the government, November 2011 Seksualiti Merdeka (Sexual Diversity) Festival; the program promoted by the government which trains volunteers to “convert gays”; and a recent public recommendation by the Deputy Education Minister Dr. Zarkashi.

In his recommendation he stated that educating parents in how to recognize the “symptoms” of ‘gayness’ will be very effective in fighting increase of an “unhealthy environment” for the other children in schools, such as having gay or lesbian peers. This recommendation has been taken into consideration and discussions are taking place.

The LGBTQ community in Malaysia is currently facing numerous of challenges, while they are oppressed in a moderate and indirect way. However, this still depicts discriminatory policies and oppressive actions by decision-makers. There are indications that sexual orientation or preference highlights a disease.

Based on that “problematic justification”, wouldn’t being straight be a disease as well? If we think of a parallel here, take cancer. Breast cancer is worth curing, but lung cancer seems more out of the waters and away from my temper, so let’s discriminate against it and labelize it for the sake of ignorance that we embrace!!

Human Rights go above and beyond every governmental practice, and it is, on a theoretical base, considered “hate crime” to neglect certain parts of the population of a community, as there is the potential for emotional and psychological abuse; in many cases other forms as well (e.g. riots for LGBTQ rights in Iran).

Exit mobile version