August 1, 2017

The Military Ban and Title VII, Cuts to SNAP, Further Repercussions of Lead, Roem Running for Office as the First Openly Transgender State Legislator, Environmental Defenders are Dying and Innovative Technology Use.

*Content warning: transphobia and sexual assault*

On the 26th of July, Donald Trump, in three tweets, stated that the US government would no longer allow transgender individuals to “serve in any capacity in the US Military.” He cites the “tremendous medical costs” he believes to be associated with transgender individuals (see 1). Aliana Kupec was a Navy intelligence officer in 1992. This transgender woman stated, “it just really saddened me for the transgender sailors and soldiers who are serving around the world today and are selflessly giving themselves to protect our country.” A number of Republican senators do not support the President’s decision. Republican senator Joni Ernst of Iowa is a 20-year military veteran who has stated that anyone who is qualified should be able to serve. Later that same day, the Department of Justice filed a brief that argued that Title VII does not protect workers from being discriminated against for their sexual orientation. The American Civil Liberties Union attorney James Esseks commented on the matter: “the Sessions-led Justice Department and the Trump administration are actively working to expose people to discrimination.”

The White House’s Budget Proposal for the 2018 Fiscal year includes beginning a 25% cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) over a decade (see 2). SNAP is better known by its previous name “food stamps.” The budget states that these reforms have been implemented to “encourage[e] work among able-bodied adults without dependents.” The majority of people on SNAP already “live in a household where someone had a job in the year before or after receiving SNAP”. According to James P. Ziliak of the Center for Policy Research at the University of Kentucky, SNAP “is increasingly operating as a work support for higher educated, but low-income households…” Orgul Demet Ozturk, Associate Professor of Economics at University of South Carolina states “making SNAP less accessible may mean not only major short-term impact to the most vulnerable but also very significant long-run effects.”

Earlier this month, reporter Yvette Cabrera of ThinkProgress published part two of her investigation into the impacts of lead in children (see 3). Cabrera found that even when children have blood lead concentrations below the threshold at which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends intervention for children (5 mcg/dL), “irreversible neurotoxic effects on the developing brains of children” could still occur. According to the CDC, “no level of lead in children is safe.” Cabrera reports, “low level lead exposure … affect[s] not only a child’s intellectual and academic abilities, but are also a risk factor for higher rates of neurobehavioral disorders such as hyperactivity and attention deficits.” Ceasar Gaspar is one boy who has suffered under the effects of lead. His mother told him that he doesn’t behave and the child replied with, “it’s because I can’t behave”. Fortunately, Ceasar has received the assistance that he needs but Gabriela Hernandez, a mental health therapist, expresses concern for children like Ceasar that have been placed on gang registries – “did they have some special education impairment that was overlooked?”

Democratic nominee Danica Roem is running for the House of Delegates 13th district seat (see 4). The Victory Fund is a group that aims to make American politics have a more inclusive voice by increasing the number of openly LGBTQ officials at all levels of government. The Victory Fund states that if Roem wins, she would be the first openly transgender candidate to win and serve as a state legislator. Running against her is Republican Rob Marshall who is, according to reporter Sarah Rankin, has “sponsored some of the most socially conservative legislation in Virginia in the past 25 years.” In an interview, Marshall referenced Danica by both her name and her “deadname” or “birth name.” Writer Sam Riedel states that referring to a trans person by the name they were assigned at birth, rather than the name that they use could “be a source of profound, dysphoria-inducing anxiety.” Despite this, Marshall has said that he respects all people “because we are all made in our Creator's image.”

According to a Global Witness report that was released earlier this month, in 2016, at least 200 people have been recorded as murdered for “defending their land, forests and rivers against destructive industries” (see 5). According to Global Witness, sexual assault, arrests and aggressive legal attacks are other tactics that have been used to silence environmental defenders. Jakeline Romero, a Columbian land defender, has said, “They threaten you so you will shut up. I can’t shut up. I can’t stay silent faced with all that is happening to my people. We are fighting for our lands, for our water, for our lives.” Columbia has the second highest incidents of murder of environmental land defenders in 2016 (37 people). Only Brazil has more at deaths of this kind (49 people). Incidences of death are increasing and taking place in more countries. Indigenous peoples represent a disproportionate amount of those killed (40%). In Global Witnesses’ “Defenders of the Earth,” they outline that governments, investors and corporations should “tackle the root cause of the risk…support and protect defenders… [and] ensure accountability for offenders.”

Daniel Saltzman, the chief of pediatric surgery at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital, used virtual reality (VR) to help separate conjoined twins (see 6). This is the first time that VR has been used to help separate twins partially conjoined at the heart. A month before surgery, Saltzman and Anthony Azakie, chief of pediatric cardiac surgery at the hospital, and their team explored VR models of the twins’ hearts. The VR models were blown-up replicas of the twins’ small organs. It was due to this rendering that the doctors realized that incorrectly severing splitting tissue that connected Paisleigh and Paislyn could result in the death of them both. The doctors decided to simply flip the twins in order to avoid that angle. Two months after the twins were separated, the doctors say that they’ll have lead healthy, independent lives. Saltzman said, “..the fact that we got to [separate these infants] using virtual reality for direct patient care makes that feat truly incredible.” There is currently a GoFundMe campaign to support the care of both children (see 7).

Written By: Faith Lewis, LLS Contributor


(1) Trump’s Tweet re Military Ban:

DOJ’s Anti-LGBTQ Position re Title VII


(2) Cuts in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program


(3) Further Repercussions of Lead


(4) Roem Running for Office as the First Openly Transgender Candidate


(5) Defenders of the Earth are Dying


(6) Innovative Technology Use


(7) Gofundme for Paisleigh & Paislyn Martinez


Written By: Faith Lewis, LLS Contributor


July 25, 2017

An Inconvenient Sequel, Hate Crimes Against Muslims, Cutting HIV Research, Discrimination Tests for Airbnbs, Strain on Courts

An Inconvenient Truth is the Oscar-winning documentary that is also one of the highest grossing documentaries to date (see 1). The documentary explains the causes and consequences of climate change. This coming week, an Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power will air in theaters. The documentary is presented largely through the perspective of former Vice-President Al Gore. More particularly, reporter Dr. Joe Romm states that the sequel “takes off where the original ends and tells the story – through Gore’s eyes –  of the climate movement leading up to drama of the Paris climate negotiations and, yes, the election of President Donald Trump.” Al Gore has said, “The fact that so many people all across the planet are now taking action on a daily basis, that’s what gives me the most hope.”

According to a report by Council on American-Islamic Relations that was released this month, between April 1st and June 30th they received 451 reports of abuse that contained “an identifiable element of anti-Muslim bias” (see 2). The National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) also collects data on religious hate crimes. Brian Levin, a professor in the Department of Criminal Justice and the director for the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism, California State University San Bernardino conducts research on the motives behind these attacks. Professor Levin observed “a spike in such crime after certain events” such as the November 13 Paris attack, the San Bernardino terror attack and Donald Trump’s proposal to indefinitely ban Muslims from the U.S. Fortunately, Professor Levin and sociologist James Nolan found that there could also be a drop in hate crimes depending on the words of prominent leaders. For example, this phenomenon occurred after President George Bush’s call for tolerance in September 2001. In 2017, the Pew Research Center has found that when an individual reports “personally knowing someone who is Muslim”, they report that that there is either “not much or no support for extremism” among U.S. Muslims at rates that are over 10% greater than those that report not personally knowing someone who is Muslim. Gordon Allport, a psychological scholar, hypothesized that “prejudice … may be reduced by equal status contact between majority and minority groups”. He also notes, though, the importance of institutional supports.

The International AIDS Society has urged the US to refrain from making budget cuts that “could hamper the treatment of the deadly disease worldwide” (see 3). The President of the International AIDS Society, Linda-Gail Bekker has stressed, “If we do not actively move forward on the HIV response, then we are sliding back.” The contribution of the U.S. is highly important, as it contributes a significant amount of funding to HIV research. In fact, according to the Kaiser Foundation, in 2015, the U.S. contributed 66.4% of all global bilateral and multilateral funding.

This month, it was announced that state regulators in California will be conducting discrimination audits on Airbnbs (see 4). These decisions come not a moment too soon for some, because complaints of discrimination have become widespread. For example, earlier this month, an Airbnb host was fined for canceling a reservation of a guest because she was Asian American. A 2015 Harvard Study illustrated that guests with “distinctly African-American sounding names” are 16% less likely to acquire a booking when compared to guests that the hosts thought to be white.

In order to fulfill the President’s wishes on illegal immigration, there has been a temporary reassignment of roughly a third of the immigration judges in the United States (see 5). Many of these judges have been sent to detention centers and positions closer to the Mexico-United States border. According to Dana Leigh Marks, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, one problem with this phenomenon is that there is a growing backlog of immigration cases.

Written By: Faith Lewis, LLS Contributor


(1) An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power,desc


(2) Hate Crimes Against Muslims


(3) Cuts to HIV Research


(4) Anti-Discrimination for Airbnbs


(5) Strain on Courts


Written By: Faith Lewis, LLS Contributor