Category Archives: gender issues

Storm Clouds Above the Statehouse

There is much to be said about Gov. Phil Scott suddenly pulling a voluntary paid family leave program. For instance, that he has never ever pushed this issue at all unless the Legislature is actively considering a universal program. This isn’t a principled position, it’s an artifice meant to draw votes away from the Dem/Prog caucuses.

But something else, something subtler but equally discomfiting, on my mind at the moment.

There are signs that the House-Senate tensions of past years are flaring back up again. If so, key legislation could fail because of differences between the two chambers, real or imaginary. If that happens, they’ll be disappointing the voters who elected record numbers of Dems expecting them to get stuff done.

This tension was minimized if not eliminated in the current biennium, thanks to the efforts of Krowinski and outgoing Pro Tem Becca Balint. It’d be a shame if Balint’s departure triggers a return of the bad old days.

The usual sniping between House and Senate is most often expressed in senators’ apparently innate sense of superiority. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen senators speak of state representatives as if they’re misbehaving kids on a school bus, and treat House legislation as if it’s toilet paper stuck to their shoes.

The most prominent example of the House-Senate tension has been the twin battles over paid family leave and raising the minimum wage. The House has preferred the former, the Senate the latter. The result: No paid leave program and woefully inadequate movement on minimum wage. On two occasions the Legislature has passed watered-down versions of a paid leave program and Scott has vetoed them. The inter-chamber differences have done much to frustrate progress toward enacting a strong paid leave program over Scott’s objections.

And now, here we are again with an apparent House-Senate rift on paid family leave.

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Felker Video Gets the Zapruder Treatment

Hey, remember the Felker Kerfuffle? When the anti-trans chair of the Burlington Republican Committee accused attendees at this year’s Pride Parade of assaulting poor old Fred Sergeant, Stonewall vet turned cranky anti-trans old man? The alleged incident got a huge amount of attention in the teeny-tiny far-right ecosystem of Vermont journalism. At a September event held by the Pride Center, Felker tried to wring more juice from the lemon by leading a small band of protesters defending Sargeant’s honor.

Felker made his accusations. There was seemingly no evidence, so it seemed like a Rashomon situation that would never be resolved.

Turns out, Felker videotaped the entire Pride Parade “assault.” He never publicly released the video even as he continued to cry foul because it shows no assault by any legal standard. Certainly nothing that threatened Sargeant’s personal safety in any way. If there was anything like a physical attack, Felker failed to capture it on video.

I know this because someone got hold of the video and posted the entire 18 minutes on YouTube. Feel free to watch it yourself. I have, and I took extensive notes. You’ll pardon me if I go on at length. But there are no word counts in blogging, so I can Zapruder this baby if I see fit.

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Big Ol’ Cop Whines Like a Baby

Oh noes, Northfield Police Chief John Helfant has a bad case of the hurt fee-fees. Helfant, who has somehow kept his job despite being labeled as an unreliable witness by the Washington County State’s Attorney, claims he’s a victim of retaliation for his bigoted comments about transgender athletes.

Let’s back up a minute. Helfant felt it necessary to wade into the controversy triggered by a disgrace-to-journalism report by WCAX-TV, since taken down and banished to purgatory, about the situation with the Randolph High School girls’ volleyball team. WCAX’s original report, for which it has failed to apologize and devoutly wishes would go away forever, featured one interview with an athlete who, at the bidding of her mother, went public with a complaint about a transgender team member. By all other accounts, she made up some shit about being harassed by the trans girl.

Helfant, who previously made a fuss about a Black Lives Matter flag at the high school, wrote a letter to school officials complaining about the equal accommodation offered to the trans girl and accusing the district of abetting criminal activity. Just to be sure it went public, he offered it up for publication by the Vermont Daily Chronicle. In it, Helfant repeatedly referred to trans girls as “biological males” or even as “male students” and called for them to be segregated in locker rooms and bathrooms. He wrote that the district might be criminal accessories to voyeurism for allowing the trans girl — oh, pardon me, “male student” — to use the gender-appropriate locker room.

The district has temporarily removed him as a volunteer coach for the girls’ soccer team, citing unfinished paperwork related to the customary background check for school coaches. You know, because there have been so many instances of youth coaches sexually abusing their charges, background checks seem like a good idea, no exceptions, even if you’re a police chief. Or, say, a Catholic priest.

Maybe it’s retaliation, I don’t know. But if I were running the district, Helfant would be kicked to the curb for good.

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Not Good Enough, WCAX. Nowhere Near Good Enough.

WCAX-TV is still in the doghouse, if not the outhouse, for its handling of the situation at Randolph High School. The station aired, and later took down, a story based on one single interview with a volleyball player who claimed to have been harassed by a transgender teammate. The reporter made no effort to fact-check or even talk to anyone else. WCAX aired the inflammatory accusation. Or, as the trans girl’s mother put it, they set a bomb and lit the fuse.

The station’s handling of the situation has been a disgrace. The original decision to run the story, the initial denials that the station was in any way at fault, the cowardly removal of the story from its website without saying a word about it, station manager Jay Barton’s belated blame-everbody-else statement, and the station’s refusal to take part in a “Vermont Edition” show about the story and the damage it has caused. (As of this writing, early afternoon on October 19, the show has not been archived online. It will be later this evening.)

Extra bonus: Barton’s non-apology aired during the news on October 13, and as far as I can tell, it is not accessible anywhere online. By its actions, it’s clear that WCAX is embarrassed. Otherwise, they wouldn’t conceal the story and Barton’s statement.

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Roger Garrity Doesn’t Get It

Note: After several days of holding fast, WCAX quietly removed the story from its website. News Director Roger Garrity told Seven Days, “We are now working with LGBTQ advocates on a message to the community acknowledging the harm that was caused.” About damn time.

The First Amendment is a powerful tool. It can inspire needed reforms, or uncover wrongdoing at the highest level. It can also wreak havoc on unfortunate bystanders.

Enter Roger Garrity, news director at WCAX-TV, an outlet that seems to be trending in the Fox News direction. On September 28, the station ran an irresponsibly one-sided story about a “locker room dispute” at Randolph High School. It extensively quoted a single member of the volleyball team who’s upset about sharing a locker room with a transgender student. She expressed the usual claptrap about “biological males” and at one point said, curiously, “My mom wants me to do this interview.”

See, in real journalism that’s the beginning of the reporting. But WCAX had some hot video and they ran with it, not giving a good goddamn about the consequences. Which are, as VTDigger’s headline put it, a “wildfire of bigotry.”

“It’s been an absolute nightmare. Horrifying. My family is in constant pain from the lies and harassment,” said the mother of the 14-year-old trans student. The story went viral in the conservative media space, triggering the usual firestorm of outrage.

Garrity, having allowed his news team to toss a metaphorical Molotov cocktail into a crowded room, floated the Tucker Carlson excuse: We were reporting the controversy, not the incident itself.

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WIll Somebody Please Ask Phil Scott What He Thinks of His Party’s Burlington Chair?

Submitted for your approval: Christopher-Aaron Felker, notorious hatemonger, astoundingly unsuccessful candidate for elective office, anti-trans agitator, multiple-time banishee from Twitter, and — lest we forget — chair of the Burlington Republican Committee.

Felker is seen here leading a tiny group — I see ten or so in this video — of people protesting at Outright Vermont’s annual fire truck pull Saturday on Church Street. (Click on the link at your own risk; it’s a two-hour video taken on a smartphone by one of Felker’s associates.)

Felker apparently heads a Vermont chapter of the LGB Alliance, an alleged gay-rights organization whose only apparent interest is stirring up anti-trans hate.

More on the Alliance in a moment. First, the question must be posed: What does the VTGOP think of its hatemongering city chair? What does Gov. Phil Scott think of this guy being a public face of his chosen party? Will he go beyond the usual expressions of dismay and work to excise this carbuncle from the ass of the VTGOP? Or is he all hat and no cattle?

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It’s Hard to Overestimate the Impact of Emerge Vermont

This week’s primary was a banner day for Democratic women. Becca Balint. Charity Clark. Sarah Copeland Hanzas. Becca White. Tanya Vyhovsky. Wendy Harrison. Anne Watson. Pending recount, Martine Larocque Gulick. I could go on.

On the statewide level, the only man who defeated a viable woman was David Zuckerman, and he beat Kitty Toll by less than five percentage points. Otherwise, when given a choice, the Democratic electorate seemed to express a built-in preference for female candidates.

(Republicans, on the other hand, were like schoolboys with a NO GURLZ ALOUD sign on their clubhouse. At the statewide level, every female Republican candidate was rejected.)

This is partly because many liberal voters want to eliminate the persistent gender imbalance in Vermont politics. The breaking point may have been when Mississippi elected Cindy Hyde-Smith to the U.S. Senate, leaving progressive ol’ Vermont as the only state never to have sent a woman to Congress.

But the biggest factor is Emerge Vermont. It equips smart, qualified, energetic women and sends them out to conquer new lands. Emerge has ensured that there are top-quality women ready for any electoral challenge. There were 48 Emerge alums on the primary ballot; 44 of them won. Another 13 had just completed an intensive campaign training; 11 were victorious.

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Wanted: Local Officials With Guts

We’ve got a disturbing trend on our hands: Small-town officials coming under heavy pressure from small groups of loud people. Or even one single person.

I’ve written at length about stealth conservatives running for local office, rabble-rousing over critical race theory and Black Lives Matter, and arguing over school mascots. But three more incidents have recently come to the fore: the Chester library board suspending Drag Queen Story Hour, the Canaan school board facing demands to remove books from the school library, and the Randolph school board voting to take down a “Black Lives Matter” flag.

This isn’t going away anytime soon. The American Library Association says it’s getting more reports of attempted book banning than ever before. The head of the ALA, Deborah Caldwell-Stone, says “It’s a volume of challenges I’ve never seen” in her 20 years in the organization.

“When you have organizations like Heritage Foundation and Family Policy Alliance publishing materials that instruct parents on how to challenge books in the school library or the public library, right down to a challenge form enclosed in the booklet so they can just fill it out, you’re seeing a challenge to our democratic values of free speech, freedom of thought, freedom of belief.”

It’s never been easy to be a local official. It’s a lot of work. You’re always on call. When things go wrong, you get the blame. But these organized movements present a new level of difficulty. Local boards of all kinds are facing loud, insistent demands from tiny cohorts of The Aggrieved.

Our local public servants don’t need any more headaches. But they’ve got ’em, and they’ll have to respond.

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Lightning Round!

As the Legislature winds down, the political news is coming thick and fast. Got several items worthy of comment including Gov. Phil Scott’s generic condemnation of persons unknown, a better use for the state’s “extra” money, three potentially interesting House races, and a depressingly rote report on last night’s Congressional debate. Let’s GOOOO!!!

Scott condemns… somebody. Perhaps because of the killing of Fern Feather, the governor (or his comms staff) took to Twitter and amped up his language condemning hate speech in the political arena. He cited “disturbing hostility toward the transgender community” and lamented that Vermont “is not immune to this.” It was a good statement, as far as it went.

But he failed to mention the source of all the hostility: his own Republican Party. He also failed to name the two individuals responsible for bringing the hate home: VTGOP chair Paul Dame and Burlington Republican Committee chair Christopher-Aaron Felker. As long as the governor refrains from identifying those responsible and refuses to step into his own party and deal with this garbage, his words are sadly empty, In the vernacular, it’s time for him to grow a pair.

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VTGOP Chair Blows the Gender Panic Dog Whistle As Loudly As He Can

Paul Dame has struck again. The VTGOP chair knows that he can’t follow the national Republican playbook verbatim because it’d be a losing proposition in Vermont, so he tries to roll out shaded, nuanced, softened versions of the hard-right talking points.

This time, in his weekly email blast, he turned his attention to the big conservative bugaboo of the news cycle: GENDER PANIC!!!!!!!

The missive is entitled “Progressive Democrats Try To Strip Parental Consent.” In it, Dame waves the bloody shirt over H.659, a bill that would allow nonsurgical, gender-affirming care for minors without parental consent. The bill’s lead sponsors are Reps. Taylor Small and Tanya Vyhovsky, which Dame spells “Vyyhovsky.” Oops.

See, in the Vermont political environment, Dame can’t come right out and advocate a ban on gender-affirming treatment or discussion of gender in the schools because he’d risk alienating too many voters. So he has to aim lower. He sees “parental consent” as a hittable target. It’s also the VTGOP version of fighting abortion rights; they can’t possibly win on banning abortions, so they circle the wagons around parental consent.

But even though Dame has smoothed off the extreme edges of the argument, his piece is built on a lie and gets worse from there.

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