Category Archives: gender issues

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Guy’s Gotcha Games

The face Phil Scott makes while listening to Guy Page

One of the minor intrigues around Gov. Phil Scott’s weekly press conferences is “What will Guy Page come up with next?” Page, the sole proprietor of the Vermont Daily Corpuscle (I think I got that right), usually comes out of right field with something straight out of the conservamedia talking point factory. Scott then answers it with his customary studied earnestness.

We got a priceless example yesterday. After asking a bloody-shirt question about an alleged crime wave of drug cartels robbing legal cannabis dispensaries, Page pivoted to the existential:

Governor, you’re the chief executive of an enterprise that includes the Vermont Commission on Women and other groups designed to benefit women. How would you answer the question, “What is a woman?”

The question came straight from Republicans in the U.S. Senate playing “gotcha” with Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson.

Scott smirked, and then proceeded to fumble his answer. I’d run the full transcript here, but it’d be hazardous to your eyesight like staring directly into the sun. The “high points” of Scott’s meander were “I haven’t contemplated an answer to that,” “I just assume that [Commissioners] refer to them as, uh, as ‘her,’ ‘she,’ or ‘her,'” and “I haven’t heard any outcry from the Commission or a Commissioner or that, um, that, uh, entity.” Sheesh.

Oh, for the moral clarity of a straightforward “Gender is a complicated thing. You can’t boil it down to a single factor.”

Scott could have also turned the table on Page. Probably would have been effective, because it turns out that conservatives can’t answer the question either.

Continue reading

#MeToo Made Barely a Dent in the Statehouse

I hate to say it, but as far as the Vermont Statehouse is concerned, #MeToo kind of was a fad. At the time, there was talk of serious changes; but in the end, the dynamic is essentially unchanged. From the viewpoint of those enduring harassment, the process is entirely in the hands of lawmakers, there is far more opacity than transparency, and as a result, the process is gathering dust and cobwebs ’cause ain’t nobody using it.

That means one of two things: Sexual harassment is a thing of the past, or the process inspires so little faith that nobody dares to use it. From informal conversations, I can tell you it’s the latter.

This issue hit the front burner thanks to a November 2017 article written by the great Alicia Freese, published about six weeks after the Harvey Weinstein case went nuclear. Freese got female Statehouse staffers and lobbyists to talk about their bad experiences — without names attached due to fear of reprisals. The conclusion: Sexual harassment was simply part of the atmosphere, something they had to be prepared for every day. The incidents ranged from inappropriate comments to propositions to actual assaults.

Afterward, legislative leaders asked the Office of Legislative Counsel (then spelled “Council”) to review Statehouse sexual harassment policy. A month later, Leg Counsel “flagged a dozen significant concerns,” according to a follow-up story by Freese. Chief among the concerns: The panels were made up entirely of lawmakers who might be seen as unfair judges of their own colleagues; complainants were told to confront their (alleged) abuser before filing a formal complaint, which is all kinds of awful; the accused lawmaker had more say in how the case was adjudicated than the complainant; and there was absolutely no transparency to the process.

In the wake of the Leg Counsel memo, then-House speaker Mitzi Johnson promised to institute a “gold standard” policy that would serve as a national example of how to prevent sexual harassment.

Indeed, the Legislature did adopt a reformed process — but the result was a real mixed bag. The bullshit about confronting your abuser was deep-sixed and complainants were given somewhat more say in the process, but the panels are still made up entirely of lawmakers and the process is almost entirely shielded from public view.

I wouldn’t call it a gold standard. Pewter, maybe. The proof: The new policy has gone almost entirely unused, while the work environment remains unfriendly to female staff and lobbyists.

Continue reading

A Curious Erasure

Chelsea Edgar didn’t have an easy assignment. The Seven Days reporter was given the task of writing a comprehensive take on the life and times of the late Peggy Luhrs, pioneering feminist, antiwar activist and, in her later years, a loud and unapologetic TERF. Luhrs lived a long time and accomplished many things. But she was a source of hate for the transgender community.

Doing right by all of that is a tough balance to strike. But there was one big area where Edgar and her editors absolutely fell down on the job.

Not a single transgender person was quoted.

Five friends were quoted, as well as five community activists, some of whom work in the LGBTQIA space. Luhrs herself was quoted at least seven times, and there were multiple examples of her harsh rhetoric. (One of her friends uttered a toned-down version of the TERF point of view.) The conservative Republican Bradford Broyles even got the chance to call trans women “biological males.”

But no room for transgender people. We should have heard from trans women at least; many of them were directly affected by Luhrs’ hateful actions.

Continue reading

The Moral Panic Merchant

Has my old frenemy Bradford Broyles become a pillar of purity? Or does he simply see a marketing opportunity in fanning the flames of hate? It’s hard to tell, but my bet’s on the latter. Either way, he’s jumped with both feet onto the book-banning bandwagon, hectoring a Vermont high school for including a transgender person’s memoir on its library shelves.

Oh, you need some background? Broyles is a wannabe Hollywood producer of tediously unfunny right-wing “comedy” in partnership with Len (billed as “Lenny” because comedy?) Britton, former ski resort operator and very unsuccessful candidate for U.S. Senate in 2010. (Pat Leahy spanked him by a better than two-to-one margin.)

Brad and Lenny are best known around these parts for producing “News Done Right,” a series of short videos critical of Vermont’s left, Phil Scott included. The “stars” of NDR were a couple of aspiring actors willing to don flannel shirts and pretend, not convincingly, to be Vermonters.

Last I heard, Broyles and Britton were flogging a sitcom starring Kevin Sorbo, the guy who played Hercules for five years on the teevee and went on to became a QAnon-style conspiratorialist. Sorbo plays a politically incorrect (read: asshole) suburban dad in “The World According to Billy Potwin.” A handful of episodes have been produced; somehow, it has yet to be picked up by any major media outlet. (You can find clips and a whole episode on YouTube if you’re a glutton for punishment.)

Lately, Broyles has been making waves, or should I say ripples, here in Vermont. Last summer he was the campaign manager for Republican Burlington City Council candidate Christopher-Aaron Felker. I don’t know why Brad bothered; Felker was a sure loser in a Prog-heavy ward even before his history of transphobic remarks on social media was uncovered. Afterward? Well, he finished with 14% of the vote. (And he is now, because desperate times call for desperate measures, the chair of the Burlington GOP.)

Broyles’ latest caper involves sending a letter sent to the Essex-Westford School Board (and sharing it for publicity purposes with Vermont Daily Carbuncle), decrying the inclusion of “Gender Queer,” a graphic memoir by Maia Kobabe about Kobabe’s search for gender identity, in the high school library. (The story was picked up by, you guessed it, John Klar on True North Reports.)

Continue reading

Fear Not, My Friends, the VPA Is On the Case

Oh boy, we’ve had another incident of abuse and taunting at a high school sports event.

According to the Morrisville News & Citizen, last week’s girls’ soccer playoff game between Lamoille Union High School and Missisquoi Union High School was rife with abuse from the home Missisquoi crowd. They reportedly showered the Lamoille team with “repeated harassment, sexualization and debasement” throughout the match, according to a statement from Lamoille administration. More from the statement:

“Those gathered on the sidelines directed their comments at the players’ weight, chest sizes and disparaging their physical appearances. In addition, other players reported repeated comments about their families and parents. The level of spectator comments exceeded typical razzing of visiting players and support of their home team.”

It gets worse. Lamoille says the game officials did nothing to stop the abuse, which left some players asking to be taken out of the game or switched to positions away from the home crowd. The officials said the abuse wasn’t “mean enough” to warrant action.

These are the same officials who read the newly-minted Vermont Principals’ Association code of behavior before the match began. So we know exactly what that’s worth.

It shouldn’t surprise you that VPA chief Jay Nichols completely failed to step up to the situation.

Continue reading

Old Veepies Never Die, They Just Get Stupider (UPDATED)

Note: Second item has a significant update. Press WILL be admitted to Winooski/Enosburg soccer game.

Oh, you thought you were done with this, did you? Yeah, my awards for stupidity and/or obtuseness in the public sector have been on sabbatical lately — it’s been harder to see the funny this fall, mostly due to the ongoing pandemic. But here we are again! On the docket: Noblesse oblige at the homelessness protest, barring the media from a soccer match, an especially stupid Covid rationalization from Team Scott, and Bennington Justice rears its ugly head.

We have multiple awardees for the It Was Quite Literally The Least We Could Do Award. The recipients include Gov. Phil Scott, House Speaker Jill Krowinski, and Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint. Brenda Siegel and Josh Lisenby, advocates for restoring the full emergency housing program, held what VTDigger helpfully called “a small rally” on Monday at the site of their Statehouse protest/campout. Apparently Siegel and Lisenby have cooties or something, because neither Krowinski nor Ballnt attended in person and Scott continues to resist meeting with them.

The Speaker and Pro Tem did issue a statement for Siegel to read, in which they endorsed full restoration of the program. Which is interesting since, as the governor points out on every occasion, they agreed to the springtime deal restricting the program. Nice of them to belatedly come down on the side of compassion. And while Scott could really use a spark of humanity, he refuses to meet with the advocates. But hey, as VTDigger put it, “they were granted an interview on Monday with Sean Brown, the commissioner of the Department for Children and Families.” Wow. “Granted an interview.” How noblesse oblige of them.

Brown reportedly said the administration would consider reopening the full program when/if (climate change, y’know) the weather gets really cold. Which tells you the administration sees this first and foremost as a PR problem. They want to be as stingy as possible, but they could do without pictures of freezing protesters or homeless people with hypothermia.

Onward and downward…

Continue reading

When Dr. Astroturf Comes Calling

The person pictured above, who bears a striking resemblance to a morality crusader in a TV detective show who’s eventually revealed as the killer, is Michael Shively, PhD.

Shively is a researcher on sex trafficking for the benignly-named National Center on Sexual Exploitation. In the past two weeks, he has appeared before the Montpelier and Burlington City Councils to speak against proposals to decriminalize prostitution. Proposals that, in his words, “would allow any home, any apartment, any nail salon to become a brothel.”

His appearances and affiliation have been duly parroted in media accounts of his “testimony,” which in each case amounted to two minutes during public comment time.

Well, let me fill you in. But first, in case you thought I was unfair in my description of Shively, here’s Levi Beecher, morality crusader slash murderer from an episode of the CBC series “Murdoch Mysteries.”

Yes, that’s him, officer. Now, about the NCOSE…

Continue reading