“You Have No Idea How Important This Is”: Anita Hill’s Testimony and the Arizona Attorneys Behind the Scenes

Anita HillWhen Justice Thurgood Marshall announced his retirement from the U.S. Supreme Court in the summer of 1991, it didn’t bode well for women. Marshall, the first African American appointed to the court, was best known for his expertise and influence on civil rights law, but he had also been a defender of reproductive rights during his tenure in the nation’s highest court. He was among the court majority that legalized abortion in Roe v. Wade, and he again stood up for abortion rights in two later cases, Harris v. McRae and Webster v. Reproductive Health Services.


The impact of Anita Hill’s testimony went beyond the question of Clarence Thomas’ appointment.


Marshall’s decision to leave the Supreme Court was announced during the presidency of George H.W. Bush, who had campaigned on an anti-abortion platform in his 1988 presidential bid. Predictably, Bush used the opportunity to replace Marshall with a more conservative judge. At a press conference on July 1, 1991, President Bush named Clarence Thomas, who was then one of the few African-American judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals, as his nominee.

Thomas had only served 19 months as a federal judge and, at 43, was relatively young for an appointee. Of the justices currently serving, he was the youngest at the time of appointment. Nonetheless, he had a record of statements and judgments that was enough to satisfy the Republican base. Though he had spent eight years as chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), he had been critical of affirmative action and school desegregation initiatives, and he questioned the very idea that the government should take action to address racial inequality. A product of a Catholic upbringing and Catholic schooling, Thomas had called the right of married couples to use contraceptives an “invention.” Groups like the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) immediately spoke out against Thomas’ nomination, expressing concern that his presence on the court could put Roe v. Wade at risk. Continue reading

From Phoenix to Washington — And the World: A Short History of the Transgender Pride Flag

Monica Helms (right) holding up her Transgender Pride Flag

Monica Helms (right) holding up her Transgender Pride Flag

November is the month for transgender pride and awareness events. In some communities, it’s one day in November: One of the most widespread observations is Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), which is held every November 20. In others, TDOR is part of a longer observation, Transgender Awareness Week. Elsewhere, the whole month is devoted to the theme. Noteworthy, too, have been grassroots efforts organized at TransParentDay.org to make the first Sunday in November a celebration of transgender parents.


Phoenix, Arizona, is the birthplace of the Transgender Pride Flag.


However they’re timed, these events share common themes. They are occasions for transgender people and their allies to remember victims of transphobic violence. They are opportunities to assert rights, dignity, and a place in society — to demand the visibility and respect that transgender people are too often denied.

Transgender visibility has also been strengthened by a powerful symbol that first made its appearance at the Phoenix Pride Parade in 2000. Since the creation in the 1970s of the rainbow flag, a symbol shared broadly by LGBTQ people, several newer flags have appeared, each representing sexual and gender identity groups within the LGBTQ community. In 1999, Michael Page, the creator of the Bisexual Pride Flag, suggested to longtime Phoenix resident Monica Helms that she create a similar flag for the transgender community. Continue reading

The Nation’s — and Arizona’s — Road to Marriage Equality

Protesters advocate for marriage equality as the Supreme Court hears Hollingsworth v. Perry. Image: Victoria Pickering

Protesters advocate for marriage equality as the Supreme Court hears Hollingsworth v. Perry. Image: Victoria Pickering

June is often known as a big month for weddings. Last June, that was more true than ever as a political battle over the right to marry was in front of the Supreme Court.

In the spring and early summer of 2013 and the days and weeks leading up to the decision in Hollingsworth v. Perry, it was clear that no matter what that case decided about same-sex marriage, the public had decided in favor of marriage equality. Hollingsworth v. Perry challenged Proposition 8, a California same-sex marriage ban that was passed by voter initiative in 2008. The plaintiffs in the case charged that Proposition 8 violated the Constitution’s equal protection clause.


Arizona was the first state to defeat a ballot initiative against marriage equality, but it still doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage today.


Interest built as the case made its way through the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court. The attorneys challenging the ban were themselves a sign of the change taking place in the United States, as former rivals in the Bush v. Gore trial — the Supreme Court trial over the disputed 2000 presidential election — joined forces to challenge Proposition 8. David Boies, a Democrat who had represented Al Gore, joined Theodore Olson, a Republican who had represented George W. Bush.

Before agreeing to serve as counsel for the plaintiffs, Olson had been approached by backers of Proposition 8 to serve as their counsel. Olson declined on the grounds that the law was contrary to both his legal and personal views. However, a high-profile Republican had made the case that the tide was turning, and polling before the Hollingsworth decision provided proof in numbers. Support for marriage equality was growing across all major demographic sectors, and 14 percent of those polled by the Pew Research Center had switched from opposing to supporting marriage equality. A CBS News poll showed that a 53-percent majority now supported same-sex marriage. Alex Lundry, a data scientist who had worked on Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, called it “the most significant, fastest shift in public opinion that we’ve seen in modern American politics.” At the same time, celebrities ranging from hip-hop artist Jay-Z to Baltimore Raven Brendon Ayanbadejo joined the fray as allies. Continue reading

From Censorship to Insufficiency: Sex Education from the Dennett Trials to Today

In an article published the day after her trial, the New York Times described the defendant as a “gray-haired, kindly-looking matron.” When she took the stand in the Federal District Court in Brooklyn, the 53-year-old grandmother introduced herself as a maker of decorative wall hangings and an occasional writer for magazines.

Maybe it was a sign of the times that such an unusual defendant could be facing an obscenity charge that spring afternoon in 1929. The decade known as the Roaring Twenties shook established conventions as metropolitan centers like Chicago and New York became the birthplaces of modern cultural movements that pushed old boundaries. Showing disdain for the conservative dress and sexual ethos of the past, women in short hair and short skirts, dubbed flappers, were sensationalized for their cavalier attitudes toward sex. Pushing limits further, homosexuals and gender nonconformists earned nods of recognition in everything from stage productions (Mae West’s The Drag) to popular music (Edgar Leslie and James Monaco’s “Masculine Women, Feminine Men”), benefiting from a level of social acceptance that anticipated the 1960s. Meanwhile, the popularity of jazz challenged racial barriers as black and white musicians collaborated on stage and in studios, and as black and white socialites mixed in lively venues like Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom.


Mary Ware Dennett was a pioneer for sex education — both through her writing and the legal battle she fought.


Amid those changes, some people still weren’t ready for the controversial publication Mary Ware Dennett was in court for distributing, even if that publication had been well received by the medical community and, furthermore, had been sent to such tame and respected clients as the Bronxville school system, state public health departments, and various religious and civic organizations like the Union Theological Seminary and the YWCA. The publication was one Dennett had written 11 years earlier for her two sons, then 11 and 14 years old. She wrote it after realizing that, without it, they wouldn’t receive the sex education they needed: “When my children reached the age when I wished to supplement what had been taught verbally, I sought something for them to read.” After searching “some sixty volumes,” Dennett decided to give up and write her own material. Continue reading

“That’s Just Your Sickness Talking”: Psychiatry, Homophobia, and the Turning Point in 1973

John E. Fryer, MD, dressed as Dr. H. Anonymous at the 1972 APA conference

It wasn’t his high blood pressure or high cholesterol that caught Matthew Moore by surprise when he went to his new physician earlier this year. Moore, a Southern California man in his mid-40s, described those conditions as “normal for me.” Nor was Moore, who is openly gay, shocked to see that his doctor noted his sexual orientation on his medical paperwork — until he saw the way that she noted it.


“The sickness label was used to justify discrimination, especially in employment, and especially by our own government.”


Listed as a chronic condition, Moore noticed “homosexual behavior” on his paperwork, followed by the medical code 302.0. As unsettling as the notation already was, Moore decided to research what the code meant, and he was left wondering how the diagnosis could happen today: “When I look[ed] up code 302.0 [I learned that it meant] sexual deviancy or mental illness, and that code has been removed or suggested heavily not to be used since 1973.”

“My jaw was on the floor,” Moore recounted. “At first, I kind of laughed, [and then] I thought, ‘Here’s another way that gay people are lessened and made to feel less-than,’ and then as I thought about it and as I dealt with it, it angered me,” he told a local news station.

Moore complained to his physician, and, dissatisfied with her response when she defended the diagnosis, he wrote a letter to the parent company of the Manhattan Beach office where his physician practiced medicine. Moore received a written apology and a refund of his co-pay.

Moore’s story made the news earlier this year because of how anomalous — and appalling — it was. But prior to 1973, Moore’s experience would have been almost inevitable, unless he took precautions to keep his sexual orientation as private and secret as possible.

Until a decision by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) changed the course of history 40 years ago this Sunday, on December 15, 1973, gay and lesbian people couldn’t escape the perception that their sexuality was a sickness. Continue reading

Book Club: Crow After Roe

Crow After RoeA new book by Robin Marty and Jessica Mason Pieklo takes readers on a tour of a disaster. It was a catastrophe that swept through much of the Midwest but also shook states like Arizona, Idaho, and Mississippi. Its widespread effects raised numerous health concerns as it made its way through much of the country, and its repercussions are still felt today. Undoing the damage could take years.

The disaster was not natural, but political. The 2010 midterm elections saw a wave of Republican victories, giving state legislatures a new makeup and a new agenda. Reacting to a recently elected Democratic president who had called himself “a consistent and strong supporter of reproductive justice,” conservative lawmakers introduced one bill after another to limit access to reproductive health care — especially, but not exclusively, abortion.


The defeat of Arizona’s 20-week abortion ban is a timely reminder of what activists can accomplish.


In Crow After Roe: How “Separate but Equal” Has Become the New Standard in Women’s Health and How We Can Change That (Ig Publishing, 2013), Marty and Pieklo, both reporters for the reproductive health and justice news site RH Reality Check, take a state-by-state look at the many bills that were introduced in the wake of the 2010 midterm elections. Those bills made the next year, 2011, a record year for state-level legislation to restrict abortion. States passed more anti-abortion laws in 2011 than in any year in the last three decades. What was quickly dubbed the War on Women continued into 2012. That year saw the second highest number of new state-level abortion restrictions. This year is shaping up to be much like the prior two, with new restrictions introduced in more than a dozen states, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Marty and Pieklo argue that this onslaught of bad legislation has put women — especially poor, minority, and rural women — in a separate and secondary class of health care consumers who have little choice or control over their reproductive health. The authors posit that the goal of the many restrictions is to render abortion “legal in name only” — still legal, but largely unavailable. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • Exactly How Much Money Have “Fiscal Conservatives” Wasted Defending Unconstitutional Abortion Laws? Hint: LOTS! (Jezebel)
  • Abortion fund hotline volunteer talks about the economics of stigma. (RH Reality Check)
  • Rather than comply with a federal mandate that its insurance plan provide free birth control, the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio has dickishly decided to drop health insurance coverage for students. (MSNBC)
  • In case you hadn’t heard, horrendously craptastic Arizona Rep. Trent Franks is pushing a bill to ban abortion care at 20 weeks in D.C. — even though he’s an Arizona congressman and has no constituents outside of Arizona. Well, his Republican cronies in the House are silencing the voice of Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, an elected official actually serving the District of Columbia, by denying her the right to testify at the hearing. That’s our democracy for ya. If you’re not an old, wealthy white guy with no uterus, your concerns about women’s health and rights are clearly not welcome. (NARAL Blog for Choice)
  • Undecided Women Voters, Don’t Be Fooled: Your Control of Birth IS ABOUT Jobs (Fem 2.0)
  • Do pregnant black women receive worse medical treatment than whites? (The Grio)
  • According to a new Gallup poll, the number of Americans who identify as “pro-choice” is at a record low. (ABC News)
  • When Access to Abortion Is Too Difficult, Women Turn to Do-It-Yourself Means (RH Reality Check)
  • Pro-choice trailblazer and women’s health advocate Jean Pakter has passed away. (NYT)