Flowers Are Still Better Than Bullets 45 Years After the Kent State Massacre

Below is a speech in commemoration of the 45th anniversary of the 1970 killings of four Kent State University students protesting the Vietnam War. The speech was delivered by the sister of Allison Krause, one of the victims.

Thank you for attending the 45th commemoration of the Kent State massacre and honoring, remembering this important day.

My sister Allison Beth Krause was one of four Kent State students killed by the Ohio National Guard in a campus parking lot here at Kent State University 45 years ago. As many of you know, this terrible day was memorialized in the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song ‘Four Dead in O-hi-o’ – one of the many reminders of how far and wide this tragic story has resonated in the United States. I am very proud to say that Allison was peacefully protesting the Vietnam war on that day and for this she was killed by the Ohio National Guard. Allison took a stand against American war – and she died for the cause of peace. I am so honored to remember my big sister for this.

Three other students and protesters died that day — Sandra Lee Scheuer, William Knox Schroeder and Jeffrey Glenn Miller — and nine were critically injured. The Kent State massacre prompted the largest national campus protest strike in history, involving four million students nationwide. A sense of collective trauma followed as it registered with the Vietnam generation that this could have been any one of them. These were ordinary American students, no different from many of you, who were balancing a deep concern for their country’s role in aggression in Southeast Asia with simpler, teenage worries like dating, getting good grades, and what the coolest new clothes looked like. To this day I cannot believe my sister was taken at that moment.

In experiencing Kent State first hand since I was 15, I was shocked when the American leadership blamed my sister and other Kent State students for the violence, the bloodshed, and the massacre. We heard them say that the students brought it on themselves and that the guard should have shot more. My family heard the last quip as we identified Allison’s dead body at Robinson Memorial Hospital. Kent State survivors, stakeholders, and just about every young American had to hear this traumatic propaganda in our grief over what our government did to us. It was a two-fold injury that permanently sealed the trauma of this day.

And to this day the families of the victims have not had an independent hearing on the murders that took place on May 4. We worried that the FBI, local law enforcement, and even that Kent State University itself were working and colluding with each other against the students, and were part of the government force that killed the innocent students and anti-war protesters. It was a real concern for us because the United States government refused to examine government complicity at Kent State.

Our government tried Kent State in civil courts, refusing to characterize and treat Kent State as an event involving the killing of American students and protesters. For Allison’s loss of life, my family received $15,000 and a statement of regret.

Even today, 45 years later, a culture of impunity persists. We read the news and see law enforcement killing young African-Americans across the country. Those of us who witnessed Kent State have to ask whether things might have been different if this era of brutal suppression of political protest had resulted in accountability. I see echoes of Kent State when I read that Mike Brown’s family has to file a civil lawsuit because there will be no criminal accountability for his killing. This is the legacy of past impunity, and it saddens me greatly to see it continue.

There is an important legal distinction to be made as we pursue accountability for the killings. Because the statute of limitations for civil rights expires quickly, survivors and stakeholders have a time limit in seeking justice when our loved ones are murdered by U.S. law enforcement and the U.S. government. But the statute of limitations never expires for murder.

Once Kent State litigation ended in the civil settlement in 1979, our government destroyed key evidence and promoted only its own view, revising Kent State history ever since. I founded the Kent State Truth Tribunal in 2010 for this reason. Telling the truth about what happened at Kent State is at the political heart of this barbaric incident. They took our family members, but we will not let them take our truth.

An incredible thing happened at the 40th Kent State anniversary in 2010. The first digital, forensic examination of a tape recorded on a Kent State University dormitory window ledge at the time of the massacre surfaced in an archive at Yale University.

Stuart Allen, an evidence expert with a lifelong forensic career, was commissioned to digitally examine the recording. Allen forensically verified that the audio on the tape revealed a command to fire. Despite government assertions that the killings were a spontaneous act of self-defense by frightened soldiers, the tape irrefutably established that in fact there was an order to shoot. I wept when I heard the words uttered by the guard commander on tape.

The U.S. government response to Allen’s Kent State forensic analyses was to ignore it. Two years later, the Department of Justice officially refused to reopen the investigation and bring new federal charges: “There are insurmountable legal and evidentiary barriers to bringing a second federal case in this matter.”

Last year the Kent State Truth Tribunal brought Kent State before the United Nations Human Rights Committee in Geneva. There, something remarkable happened. The U.S. delegation at their formal treaty hearing and review admitted, “In 1970, four students were killed, were murdered and nine injured.” In a simple phrase, and for the first time in 45 years, our government finally admitted what we all knew to be true — this was government-executed murder.

Our response was also simple. Now that our government has established that Kent State was murder, we demand they treat Kent State as murder and immediately examine the evidence in the forensic digital findings that captured the order to shoot. We know the statute of limitations never expires for murder.

Will the U.S. government do this? Not without pressure from those of us who still care deeply about Kent State and not without help from all of you.

Our work at the United Nations with the Human Rights Committee continues in 2015. Please stand with Allison, the Kent State Truth Tribunal, and me in this 45th year. Let’s demand U.S. government accountability for the unlawful killings at Kent State.

I’d like to close with a portion from my speech at the United Nations:

The right to assemble and protest is professed as a cherished American value and is a fundamental facet of our democracy. The Kent State precedent has cast a shadow over this democracy for over 40 years. If Kent State remains a glaring example of government impunity, it sends a message that protestors, especially young men and women, can be killed by the state for expressing their political beliefs. My sister died protesting for peace and I would like to honor her memory by ensuring that this never happens to another American protestor again.

Laurel Krause is a writer dedicated to raising awareness about ocean protection, safe renewable energy, and truth at Kent State. She is the cofounder and director of the Kent State Truth Tribunal, which you can follow on Facebook here.

 

 

 

The sister of a Kent State victim commemorates the killings and calls for accountability 45 years later.

Transgender Equality Is Not the Post-Marriage Fight of the LGBT Movement

The past few weeks have been pivotal for conversations about LGBT people in the public discourse. Just days after Olympian Bruce Jenner announced to Diane Sawyer and 17 million viewers that he is a woman, leading gay rights advocate Mary Bonauto argued for marriage equality  at the United States Supreme Court.

There is good reason to believe that the decades-long fight for marriage for same-sex couples will be concluding on the side of love and equality. And as that fight (fingers crossed) comes to at least a formal end, many have assumed that transgender rights will become a key legal and political project that follows marriage equality.

Yet that narrative obscures the important reality that the struggle for justice for transgender people preceded the fight for marriage equality, continued throughout that fight, and will persist long into the future. Inevitably, as we come to understand the common humanity of trans people, our stories and struggles will become a part of the public consciousness.

At the same time, we mustn’t perpetuate such an ahistorical view of the struggle for justice for trans people that only begins where the fight for marriage equality leaves off. While it may well be the “Transgender Tipping Point,” it is only because trans people have been fighting in the streets, in the courts, in prisons and jails, and in legislatures for decades.  

Led by trans women of color, that fight is not just one for equality but also for survival.

It is a demand to be understood as human in the face of institutional, systemic, and interpersonal violence.

It is a demand for accountability in the face of police profiling and targeting.

It is a demand for worker’s rights, for health care, for equality.

It is as simple as a demand to use the restroom in peace.

It is as nuanced as the demand to be visible and understood as existing outside of the gender binaries that organize our legal and social structures.

As The New York Times today recognized, it is a request “to come out in a nation where stories of compassion and support vastly outnumber those that end with a suicide note.”

The call for justice for trans people is not merely what comes after marriage. It is a call that has been animating our movement for as long as there has been one.

 

The fight for transgender rights preceded the fight for marriage equality.

All Eyes on Justice Kennedy

In cases as divided and important as the marriage cases, it is almost always difficult to get a good sense of how the justices will rule just from listening to the oral arguments. But I came away mostly hopeful from Tuesday's oral arguments before the Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges, the consolidated cases from four states that will decide whether same-sex couples have the freedom to marry nationwide.

The reason I'm optimistic is simple: Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court's perpetual wildcard, said a lot of reassuring things about marriage equality during oral argument.

1. Journey from Lawrence to marriage. Justice Kennedy noted that approximately the same amount of time elapsed between the court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which struck down racial segregation in the public schools in 1954, and Loving v. Virginia, which struck down bans on interracial marriage 13 years later, and between Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down criminal sodomy laws in 20o3, and these cases about the constitutionality of bans on marriage for same-sex couples 12 years later. That suggests he may think the time is right.

It also suggests that he rightly thinks of the court's decision in Lawrence, which he wrote, as the Brown of the gay rights movement. If that's how he thinks of Lawrence, it seems less likely that he'd be prepared to tarnish his legacy and stop the evolution of his conception of liberty short of marriage.

2. Dignity of marriage. Yesterday, Justice Kennedy reaffirmed his view that marriage is about dignity and echoed his statements in Windsor that the Constitution protects the equal dignity of gay people. Dignity came up when the states' lawyer, John Bursch, made the surprising assertion that marriage has never been a "dignity-bestowing" institution.

"I don't understand this ‘not dignity bestowing,'" Kennedy replied. "I thought that was the whole purpose of marriage." If that wasn't enough, Kennedy also said, "It's dignity bestowing, and the [gay couple petitioners] say they want to have that – that same ennoblement," as well as, "Many states would be surprised [that marriages] are not enhancing the dignity of both parties. I'm puzzled by that."

It was a tone-deaf moment for Mr. Bursch, who should have known how central the concept of dignity is to Justice Kennedy and his view of the liberty that the Constitution protects. In a case where everyone on both sides went in presuming that Justice Kennedy was the primary audience, one wonders what Mr. Bursch was thinking.

James Esseks on the steps of the Supreme Court

3. Noble purpose of marriage. When the states' lawyer suggested that voters who enacted the marriage bans wanted to prompt married couples to commit primarily to their children, rather than just to each other, Justice Kennedy pushed back, saying, "But that, that assumes that same-sex couples could not have the more noble purpose [of committing to their children], and that's the whole point. Same-sex couples say, of course, we understand the nobility and the sacredness of the marriage. We know we can't procreate, but we want the other attributes of it in order to show that we, too, have a dignity that can be fulfilled."

4. Concern for children. Justice Kennedy noted that the marriage bans make it more difficult for same-sex couples to adopt children, and said "I think the argument [about children] cuts quite against [the states]." He also stated flat-out that the states' suggestion that only biological parents can bond with their children is wrong, recognizing the reality that many children are raised by adoptive parents, including gay people.

5. Skeptical about harm to traditional marriage.  Justice Kennedy also challenged the states' argument that letting same-sex couples marry would harm "traditional" marriage. He asked how such a concern could be "some kind of rational or important" reason for excluding same-sex couples from marriage. And note his use of "rational or important," which caught the attention of many advocates in the courtroom, since "rational" is the language of the lowest level of constitutional review, whereas "important" is part of more searching judicial scrutiny, which is something we are hoping to get for sexual orientation classifications out of the Obergefell decision. This could be a clue that Justice Kennedy may be ready to make the standard more explicit.

6. Concern about states' narrow focus on procreation. Finally, Justice Kennedy seemed concerned about the states' focus on procreation as the primary and even sole purpose of marriage. When the states' lawyer tried to wriggle out of answering a question from Justice Kagan about that, Justice Kennedy pushed for an answer, suggesting that he, too, is perturbed by that narrow focus.

But it wasn't all good, of course. Two comments from Justice Kennedy unsettled me.

At the beginning of the argument, he said that the word that comes to his mind as he thinks about these cases is "millennia," As in the thousands of years of traditional marriage between a man and a woman, contrasted to ten years of experience with marriage of same-sex couples. Later in the argument, Justice Kennedy suggested that the social science about the development of children raised by gay people is too new to tell us whether the kids do okay, and that the court should disregard it. It was quite frustrating to hear that sentiment from him, when it's just wrong, and we've tried so hard to communicate fairly the consensus among child development experts.

Of course, comments at oral arguments are not always reliable guides to how the justices will vote in the end. But the combination of these remarks, Justice Kennedy's prior decisions on gay rights, and the evolution in the country around LGBT rights more generally make me optimistic that a lot of wedding bells are going to ring out come June.

Six reasons why the Supreme Court’s wildcard seems to be siding with marriage equality.

Sheriff Joe Must Go

This piece originally appeared in The Arizona Republic.

It's been seven years since the ACLU first challenged Maricopa County Sheriff's Office policies targeting Latino motorists. We confirmed during last week's contempt hearing against county sheriff's officials that competent, professional law enforcement agencies don't vilify Latinos in order to garner publicity.

While the ACLU's goal in filing the lawsuit was to end racial profiling, the case has exposed countless troubling sheriff's office policies that are completely out of line with best practices for any government agency. Under Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office is politicized, training and oversight are ineffective, and internal investigations are a mess.

"There is lack of leadership at all levels of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, and in particular, in the upper command ranks of the Office," the court-appointed, independent monitor wrote in a report released this month. "In short, the organization, and its leadership team, has failed both the community and its personnel."

Arpaio already admitted that he violated a federal court's order relating to deputies' detention of Latinos. When questioned under oath last week, he said the order "must have slipped through the cracks." This is an unacceptable response from the head of one of the largest law enforcement agencies in the state. The sheriff took an oath to uphold the law, not ignore it for political gain.

Arpaio's arrogance and desire for publicity led directly to the Sheriff's Office's illegal profiling of Latinos. It's those same qualities that motivated Arpaio to disregard a federal judge's orders. Last week's contempt hearing, which is expected to resume in June, publicly validated that Arpaio permitted unconstitutional, discriminatory practices to continue long after they should have stopped.

Once the contempt charges against Arapio and other sheriff's office officials are resolved, the question remains whether the department can ever become a trusted law enforcement agency under its current leader.

The answer for many people in Maricopa County is no. Arpaio's self-serving policies have so alienated Latinos that it's hard to imagine the office's relationship with much of the public could be repaired while he's in power. Furthermore, Maricopa County residents continue to dole out millions to defend Arpaio's unconstitutional and unlawful actions.

But extensive court orders relating to how the sheriff's office does its work are changing department practices. Body cameras with strict usage guidelines will be deployed, data collection on traffic stops will help ensure unbiased policing, and a sophisticated early warning system will alert the department to problem deputies. The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office has started to repair policy and management problems that became ingrained in the agency during Arpaio's tenure.

I'm optimistic the court remedies that are expected to be handed down against the sheriff and his top deputies in the coming months will serve as a wakeup call to take these reforms — and the communities they serve — seriously. Remedies and court-ordered changes are the only hope the agency has of shedding Arpaio's corrupt culture and becoming a reputable police force.

The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office cannot build trust with its citizens with Arpaio in charge.

A Picture of Torture Is Worth a Thousand Reports

One photo shows an Iraqi teenager bound and standing in the headlights of a truck immediately after his mock execution, staged by U.S. soldiers. Another shows a group of soldiers forcing a detainee to look at pictures of lingerie-clad women. Another depicts the body of Muhamad Husain Kadir, an Iraqi farmer, shot dead at point-blank range by an American soldier while handcuffed.

These are just three of thousands of photos related to cases of detainee abuse that our government refuses to release. We know little about the majority of these photos, but documents released to the ACLU over the last decade offer some clues to what they reveal. Today, on the 11th anniversary of the release of the Abu Ghraib photos, we're releasing everything we know about what's in the photos the government doesn't want us to see.

Six months before the Abu Ghraib scandal, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act request for records, including photos, relating to the abuse and torture of prisoners in U.S. detention centers overseas. During the years of litigation that followed, we received almost 6,000 documents (all searchable in our Torture Database) illustrating these abuses, but the government has persistently refused to release the photos or give individualized reasons for withholding them.

She was reportedly sexually abused and assaulted and "made to crawl around on all-fours as a 'large man rode' on her,” striking her with a stick and calling her an animal.

Last month, indicating his impatience with the government's intransigence, U.S. District Court Judge Alvin Hellerstein ordered the government to "disclose each and all the photographs" relating to the ACLU's FOIA request — which includes some 2,100 pictures — or appeal the decision in 60 days. On May 19, the government will either release the photos or take the fight to the federal court of appeals.

We searched for mention of photographs in our Torture Database in an attempt to learn everything we could about what the government is hiding. By our count, more than 100 of the documents we received from the government either referenced photos related to cases of abuse or actually contained the photos, which were redacted before they got to us.

This spreadsheet details what we learned. The photos whose existence we discovered were taken at more than two dozen locations, mostly in U.S.-run detention facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are also some photos from the prison at Guantánamo Bay. Many of them document autopsies and injuries, often resulting from abuse either alleged or confirmed. Other photos document detention facilities; many others are mugshots.

Some of these photos referenced in the spreadsheet were likely released with the Abu Ghraib disclosures, and thus are already in the public domain. Many of these have never seen the light of day. And while we can infer the contents in a number of the missing photos it should be clear that the scope is far from comprehensive. But what we found was instructive nonetheless.

In many of the cases, we deduced what was in the photos based on the investigations detailed in the documents, many of which dealt with alleged detainee abuse. In one case, prompted by the discovery of a photo, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ordered an Army investigation after a photo was found of a female soldier "posing as if [she] was sticking the end of a broom stick into the rectum" of a detainee, bound and hooded in a stress position. The investigation found probable cause to believe the female soldier, as well as three other soldiers posing in the background of the photo, committed the offenses of conspiracy, failure to obey a general order, and cruelty and maltreatment.

But that kind of finding seems to be the exception rather than the rule. Many of the criminal investigations discussed in these documents were terminated after leads were lost, documents couldn't be tracked down, or witnesses couldn't be found.

Take, for example, the 2003 case of a 73-year-old Iraqi woman, who was arrested and flown by helicopter to an unknown facility where she was allegedly tortured for five days by U.S. soldiers. During those five days, according to the investigation, she was reportedly sexually abused and assaulted and "made to crawl around on all-fours as a 'large man rode' on her," striking her with a stick and calling her an animal. The Army's investigation began eight months after the fact and was closed in June 2004 after it "did not develop sufficient evidence to prove or disprove" the woman's allegations.

In another 2003 case, an Iraqi detainee was delivered on the verge of death to a U.S. Army medical center in Al Asad, Iraq. The detainee suffered from blunt force injury to the head and died a few days later. Investigators determined the detainee had most likely been interrogated at Abu Ghraib immediately prior to his arrival at the hospital and that his injuries were likely a result of a violent interrogation. One officer wrote in an email that the case was "obviously a homicide." Yet the investigation was closed with the identity of both the Iraqi victim and those responsible for his death undetermined.

Throughout the legal struggle over the photos, the government has argued that their release might incite extremists to violence, endangering Americans. That very same argument was made by some before the release of the executive summary of the Senate's landmark torture report. But, as we have argued before, this reasoning is both faulty and fundamentally undemocratic. As my colleague Jameel Jaffer has written:

"It's not just that the argument gives those who threaten violence a veto over political debate; it gives the government a veto, too. To accept the argument, at least in the absence of a specific, credible threat directed against specific people, is to give the government far-reaching power to suppress evidence of its own misconduct. And the worse the misconduct, the stronger would be the government's argument for suppression."

The Abu Ghraib scandal and its aftermath illustrated the power that photo evidence has to galvanize public attention and concern. To allow the government to suppress evidence of abuse is to invite a recurrence of that abuse in the future.

 

What’s in the thousands of torture photos the government is refusing to release? We did some digging to try to figure it out.

2 State Bars Have Done the Right Thing for New Moms Needing to Pump. We’re Making Sure the 48 Left Do Too.

When Kristin Pagano came to the ACLU after being denied accommodations to pump breast milk during the Illinois bar exam, we decided to take action on her behalf. After the ACLU of Illinois sent a letter to the Illinois Board of Admissions to the Bar, the board agreed to make nursing moms eligible for accommodations – such as breaks and a private room for pumping.

Then another new mom-to-be, Shahzeen Karim, came forward with the same problem — this time in Texas. After over 25,000 people signed a petition, the Texas board also agreed to change its policies.

Now a third case has popped up in Kentucky, where the Office of Bar Admissions has told Jacquelyn Bryant-Hayes that the single lunch break in the 8-hour test day should be sufficient for her, even though she informed the board that her baby will be just four weeks old on the day of the test and her doctor estimated she would need breaks every 1.5 hours. (Setting aside the law, something is just wrong with their math!)

The ACLU of Kentucky is appealing that decision. But obviously, this isn't an isolated problem. That is why the ACLU and Law Students for Reproductive Justice are today announcing a nation-wide initiative to ensure that all nursing mothers who need testing accommodations during the bar exam are eligible to receive them, no matter where they are taking the exam.

Why does this matter?

The ACLU has long fought against discrimination based on pregnancy and breastfeeding in education and career advancement. Standardized tests and licensing exams, such as the LSAT, bar exam, medical boards, serve as important gateways to the professions, and they should be administered in a way that is fair to all test takers, including women who need some extra time and a place to pump.

Failure to pump on a regular schedule (typically every 2-3 hours) can lead to serious consequences, like pain and infection. If women are not allowed enough time to pump during these marathon tests, they will be forced take the exam through pain and distraction, risking their health, or will have to put off taking the exam altogether. Women should not have to choose between pursuing their career goals and their own health or that of their babies.

Thanks to the bravery of Kristin, Shahzeen, and Jacquelyn, we've already won changes in two states — and hope to win in a third. Now we need to win this for everyone. The ACLU and LSRJ volunteers are researching the accommodation policies in all 48 states left and will follow up with action against state legal licensing boards whose policies penalize nursing moms.

Here's how you can help! If you (or someone you know) are planning on taking the bar (or another similar entrance or licensing examination) and need testing accommodations, or if you have already been denied those accommodations, we want to hear from you. Tell us your story!

And stay tuned for more opportunities to get involved as the campaign kicks into full swing.

The ACLU and LSRJ announce a campaign to fight discrimination against nursing moms during the bar exam.

‘I Never Thought This Would Happen, and Certainly Not So Fast!’

Larry Ysunza met his partner Tim Love in 1980 and told his mother that very day that he had met the man he was going to marry. Thirty-five years later, Larry and Tim are among the plaintiffs in the marriage cases that the Supreme Court will hear today. They will be in the courtroom eagerly listening for clues from the justices about whether their long engagement will finally end in marriage vows.

“I never thought this would happen, and certainly not so fast!” That’s Larry expressing his surprise at how fast the country is moving towards the freedom to marry for same-sex couples.

I hear the same sentiment — that marriage equality nationwide was once unimaginable — from so many people. And I feel it myself, every day. When I was a closeted junior high school kid on rural Long Island in the late 1970s, marriage just wasn’t a possibility. I couldn’t imagine coming out to anyone, much less a future in which I could live openly and with dignity. How surprised I would have been back then to know that there would be a man in my future that I could marry, with my family in attendance.

Even putting aside how the marriage cases come out (and we can never count on a win, although I’m hopeful), there has been a striking transformation of the country’s attitude towards our marriages. That trend has snowballed since 2013, when the Supreme Court struck down the core of the Defense of Marriage Act in the ACLU’s United States v. Windsor case.

In short, America is recognizing the common humanity of gay people.

We've gone from 13 marriage states at the end of June, 2013, to 37 today. Twenty of those new marriage states came just in the last year. On the cultural side, polls show 61 percent support for marriage equality nationwide, America’s biggest businesses are supporting us before the Supreme Court, and even Republican presidential primary candidates are wrestling with whether to attend our weddings or embrace their LGBT children.

That’s progress at a rate that genuinely makes my head spin. And it’s becoming hard to remember how difficult the struggle was just a few years ago. America today is in a very different place from 2004, when voters in 13 states amended their state constitutions to exclude us from marriage; from the summer of 2006, when we lost marriage cases in New York, Washington, and Nebraska; from 2008, when we lost Prop 8 at the polls, which took marriage away from us in California; and even from early 2011, when the U.S. Department of Justice was still defending the constitutionality of DOMA.

I know I felt different about our prospects for success back then. I was confident in our legal arguments but also thought that the cultural change was happening slowly. I didn't see the acceleration coming. The tsunami of new marriage cases filed all across the country in the wake of Windsor took me by surprise, as did the even more astounding pile of lower court decisions ruling our way again and again. Something profound has changed about how the country sees gay people.

That change comes from the cultural power of marriage. A central part of homophobia is the assumption that gay people don't have relationships the same way that straight people do. That our relationships are all about sex rather than about love, that we're interested in kids as pedophiles rather than as parents, and that any relationships we do have are short, furtive, and shameful.

Gay Rights Flag

Marriage in America means the opposite of those anti-gay stereotypes. Marriage is about love, about having kids, about a very public celebration of two people's commitment to each other.

A primary driver of the cultural change around gay people is the country’s growing realization that we're not so different from straight folks. Relationships play the same role in our lives as in theirs. And many of us are living the commitment at the core of marriage and are harmed when the law treats us as legal strangers. In short, America is recognizing the common humanity of gay people.

And today before the Supreme Court, we will be making the same argument: That the common humanity of gay people is the core reason that excluding us from marriage violates the Constitution. We are similarly situated to heterosexuals with regard to the purposes of marriage, and the Constitution’s guarantees of liberty and equality apply to us as well. Once the country and the courts appreciate our core similarity, the legal arguments in these cases just aren't very difficult. The inequality becomes quite stark and unjustifiable.

It's taken many years to get to this point, both in the courts and in the culture. Though we've gotten here more quickly than I expected, we have also waited a long time to stand with equal dignity in America. We have lost friends and partners, had children and grandchildren, loved and lost all without the legal protections that so many count on. It’s about time — for Tim and Larry, for my junior high school self, and for millions of other lesbian, gay, and bisexual people all across the country that we be recognized in our full humanity.

I’m optimistic that our wait is about to be over, but regardless of how the court rules, this is a wonderful time and place to be.

The Supreme Court today will hear arguments in cases in four states that bar marriage equality.

Many Drone Deaths, Little Information

This was originally published by USA Today.

Is it lawful for the government to use armed drones to strike at suspected terrorists and militants? Yes, in some circumstances it is. The question isn't whether, but when.

U.S. drone strikes have killed thousands, including hundreds of civilians. No one outside the government has a clear idea of who's being killed, or why. Though anonymous intelligence officials frequently leak cherry-picked facts to the news media, the government doesn't usually release information about individual drone strikes — not about the targets, and not about civilian casualties.

The government has refused to release the Justice Department memos that are effectively "the law" of the drone program. Until very recently, the CIA's position in court was that national security precluded the agency from confirming or denying that there was a drone program at all.

President Obama's remarks on Thursday make clear that even those inside the government don't always know who the drone strikes are killing. The United States killed two innocent hostages it didn't know were there; the same strike killed someone whom the government only later learned was an American. Another strike also killed an American, though again the government did not learn this until later.

The fact that the government killed people inadvertently, or without knowing who they were, doesn't itself establish that the strikes were unlawful. But it's surely reasonable to ask whether drone operators should be pulling the trigger when they know so little about who's in their sights.

The United States, like every other country, has the right to use lethal force in wartime, and it has the right, even outside the context of actual hostilities, to defend itself against imminent threats.

But Thursday's disclosures raise new and deeply concerning questions about whether the U.S. is complying with its own stated policies and its obligations under international law, including the obligation to avoid civilian casualties.

Ironically, the disclosures are also a reminder of how little we know about a program that has been responsible for so many deaths.

The tragic killing of Western hostages underscores just how many civilian deaths we don’t know about.

Why I Am Afraid of the Bathroom

As a transgender person, I don’t take small things for granted. I appreciate the store clerk who calls me “sir,” my colleagues who don’t struggle with my name or pronouns, and most important to my daily routine, I appreciate every uneventful trip to and from the bathroom.

To cisgender (non-transgender) people, going to the bathroom is a small thing, a normal and thoughtless part of their day, as routine as breathing air. To me, many other trans people, and anyone who doesn’t fit rigid norms of masculinity and femininity, just locating a bathroom  where we will be safe causes anxiety, fear, and takes a great deal of time and effort.

There is widespread fear about trans people being able to go to the bathroom like everyone else does. Fear of how we might be different. Misinformation that somehow letting us go to the bathroom will make other people unsafe. Though there is no data to support that fear, there is data to show that trans people continue to be bullied, harassed, and worse just for simply existing. 

Efforts to legalize this discrimination towards and harassment of trans people through  so-called “bathroom-bills” have taken center stage in state legislatures in places like Massachusetts, Florida, Texas, Kentucky, Missouri, Arizona, and Nevada. These bills would not only fine trans people for using the restroom (up to a $4,000 dollar fine included in a recent California ballot initiative), but also criminalize and potentially send trans people to jail. We face fear, anxiety, and violence just by existing each day and these bills encourage further harassment and violence, attempting to legislate us out of public spaces.

When something as necessary and basic as going to the bathroom becomes the subject of ballot campaigns, school board meetings, and legislative battles, the message that we get is clear:  You cannot exist, you are not people. This violent message is often amplified for trans people of color, trans people living in poverty, and trans people with disabilities. By making it so difficult for trans people to use the bathroom safely, our very existence is challenged, resisted, and suppressed.

Thankfully, even with the rise in vitriolic anti-trans campaigns, there are stories of love and resistance to counteract them. This week, NBC Nightly News is aired a special on transgender children who are loved and supported by their families.  Laverne Cox was recognized in People Magazine’s 50 most beautiful people and Janet Mock announced that she will be sitting down with Oprah to discuss her New York Times best-selling memoir, “Redefining Realness.” 

Trans people are beautiful and brilliant and deserving of love, like everyone else.  We need to send that message to the young trans people when they hear their state governments are trying to take away their rights and their abilities to live in the world.

Fortunately, many of the anti-trans bills that we saw this legislative session died in committees, or on their state legislature’s floor. But some damage was done just by the fact that they were introduced and trans people were sent the message that we don’t deserve to live safely or with dignity. 

Stand with me and other trans people and support our right to exist and help tell the next generation of young trans people that they are loveable and beautiful and brilliant.

For transgender people, the mundane often becomes menacing. And some states want to make that sense of insecurity official.

Shifting Deadlines, Shifty Numbers: The Pentagon’s Messy Process for Removing the Ban on Women in Combat

More than two years ago, Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta announced on live television that he was doing away with the Pentagon's outdated ban on assigning women to combat units and jobs.

The announcement followed the 2012 lawsuit that we brought against him on behalf of four women who served in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. We and the Service Women's Action Network challenged the discriminatory policy, alleging that it kept women from even competing for about 238,000 positions across the military.

Panetta ordered the military branches to open all jobs to women or request and receive an "exception" for any jobs they wished to keep all-male. Hetold them that "integration of women into newly opened positions and units will occur as expeditiously as possible," and that it "must be completed no later than January 1, 2016."

As the military set about following these orders, it moved to dismiss our lawsuit. The federal district court in California, however, instead required the military to check in periodically on its efforts to remove the remaining barriers to women's service.

In other words, the brass ceiling is proving tough to crack.

Last week, the military provided some of that specific information — and what it said raises concerns about whether the military has ever been serious about integrating women into the combat jobs by January 2016. The new information demonstrates that progress has been slow, not "expeditious" as initially directed, and that the vast majority of closed jobs still exclude women from even applying.

First, the Pentagon confirmed to the court that the January 2016 deadline for integrating women won't be met. Instead, all that it plans to do by that date is announce which jobs it plans to open to women, and which it plans to reserve only for men. In other words, the Pentagon isn't going to actually allow women into the jobs by the deadline, and it isn't going to let them try out for them either – it's only going to announce whether it ever plans to admit women.

Second, this new status report suggests that women are excluded from even more jobs than we thought. Back in 2012, before we sued, the Pentagon's major general in charge of personnel said that about 238,000 positions were closed to women "across the force, all services." 

Disturbingly, the Pentagon now puts the number of positions for which women aren't allowed to compete at 240,000 — more than the 238,000 the Pentagon had originally stated. These 240,000 positions include 53 military specialties (i.e., career fields) that are entirely closed to women. The Pentagon now says the apparent increase in closed positions can be accounted for by the fact that the earlier numbers didn't include positions within the Reserves, but the fact remains that the military's numbers, like its self-imposed timeline, are all over the map.

Finally, the court mentioned that "the large bulk" of positions that women aren't allowed to do still haven't been opened, and the Pentagon has now confirmed that most positions won't be opened, if at all, until the end of the implementation process.  In other words, the brass ceiling is proving tough to crack.

If the Pentagon will not even decide which positions it will let women enter until January 1, 2016, does this mean it is possible or even likely that "the large bulk" of the closed positions will not in fact be open to women to compete for and enter until long after that date? And if so, how long after?

These are the questions that we'll be seeking answers to when we go back to court today. The questions take on a special urgency when you consider that many of the women who fought valiantly in Afghanistan and Iraq don't have forever to wait for their fair shot at combat units and occupations.

The military appears to be dragging its feet, slow-rolling the process of eliminating its discriminatory barriers until the majority of women with actual combat experience —those who, like our clients, were injured on the battlefield or led women who accompanied foot soldiers on combat missions — have left the military. A shifty strategy indeed, and one that the government should abandon in favor of a fair shot for military women.

DOD admits it won't be done integrating women into combat positions by Jan. 1, 2016. Brass ceiling 1, servicewomen 0.