We Are Not Women Who Can Stand Things

The reality behind the smiling faces

Making the best of our current reality.

The dog’s snores and the dishwasher’s quiet burble are the background music to my racing thoughts. My husband retreated to the bedroom after our passive aggressive, or possibly more aggressive than passive, monologue about the mental health toll the pandemic has taken on me. My anger is unreasonable, and I know it. But, it’s not so much seeing red as seeing green. My jealousy because he spends most of his days being called by his name and interacting with other adults is overwhelming.

What am I doing? Am I any good at this? Are the children ok? How is virtual learning going? Is my younger daughter getting enough Spanish in her day? Am I doing enough to help her learn to read, in English or Spanish? Am I doing enough to help my older daughter navigate fourth grade, looming pre-teen years, and all of the attendant changes that accompany it? Am I doing enough? Am I enough?

My privilege is evident with every step I take. We have a beautiful home, plenty of food to eat, clean water, in-home internet access, and our school has provided devices for virtual learning. My family, both immediate and extended, are healthy. But, pandemic life has my ADHD medication strained to its limits. Our worries are still abstract compared to so many others.

Two friends have lost their fathers. They were not able to be with them at the end because of the pandemic. I can’t be with them, to help ease their pain, for the same reason. I haven’t seen my own parents since February. Another friend is back to grinding her teeth from the stress, and another worries about how much longer she can run her own business and run virtual learning. I try to write.

Women at mid-life. Women on the edge.

We haven’t slept well since March. We try to catch a moment’s break, after making lunch, in between Zoom school sessions and our own work, but it slips through our fingers, a specter fading fast, as young voices ring out with questions and requests. Maybe later, with a glass of wine.

We march forward with determined happiness, look at the bright side, we can’t break down because there is too much to do. With a smile on our faces and in our voices, we help older children understand schoolwork, take little ones on nature walks, do homemade science experiments, and troubleshoot technology issues. But, don’t test us. Our patience for outside drama and/or willful ignorance is nonexistent.

Introspection is a thing of the past now. We’re in survival mode.

Within my friend groups, I know at least ten women who have left traditional careers to become their own bosses. We’ve launched businesses or started new careers that we do around the schedules of the other people in our lives, or when everyone else sleeps. We volunteer for non-profits, political campaigns, and march in the streets. We act as room parents. We’re mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives. We do it all while wondering how much more we can handle. But, we do it because we want to and we know it’s helping other people. We send each other messages that use phrases like “I don’t want to bother you”, but know that commiserating with one another helps.

We need an escape, but reality constantly impinges on it. There’s no escape if your conscience whispers not-so-sweet nothings to remind you that your privilege is what makes the escape possible. Drink more water. Eat healthy food. Get more exercise; it will clear your head. Make time for yourself, but don’t put yourself first. Listen to what your body is trying to tell you. You’re doing great; no, not like that!

We’re ambitious and confident. And, we look at our lives with both intense love and more than a little trepidation. The refrain doesn’t change. Am I doing enough?

Women don’t have time for a mid-life crisis. We have too much to do.

*My thanks and apologies to William Faulkner for the title inspiration.

Open Letter to Congress — Heavy is the Head that Wears the Crown

The day after an attempted coup d’etat in the nation’s capital

United States Capitol, Washington, DC

January 7, 2020

Dear Congress:

Wednesday, people around the world watched in stupor as armed terrorists breached the hallowed halls of the United States Capitol and attempted an insurrection. Wednesday night, we all watched as the men and women of Congress made impassioned speeches about the sanctity of our democratic institutions and the importance of peaceful transitions of power. We also watched as many spoke about “real America” and what America really is.

We, the people of the District of Columbia, would like a few words. While the world watched in horror, residents of the capital city were shuttering businesses, running for cover, and watching as rioters, foaming at the mouth like rabid dogs, overran our backyard.

The America you claim to be the real America is here. There are approximately 712,000 Americans who live, have families, go to work, to school (the school children here don’t get the luxury of abstraction through television because this is our home and they’re frightened), die in our wars, eat dinner, and have friends right here in Washington, D.C. There are many multi-generation families born, raised, and living in this city. This reality is often dismissed because these families are, for the most part, Black Americans. In your eyes, Washington, DC, the real Washington, DC, is hamstrung by, to quote late Senator Edward Kennedy, “the four too’s—too urban, too Black, too Democratic, and too liberal.”

The other truth is that you all don’t care about Washington, D.C. You. Don’t. Care. You waltz in and out, work three day work weeks, and spend your weekends in your home states. You do not spend time in our city. Your only concept of Washington, D.C. is through the prism of your own tunnel vision. You willfully, and gleefully, deny voting representation to the Americans that live in this 68.34 square miles of the United States, but force us to pay federal taxes. You deny us home rule, force us to submit the city’s budgets to Congress for approval; including budgets that use only money generated by our own local taxes.

The faux outrage you displayed Wednesday night is galling. How dare you go on and on about the preciousness of Washington, D.C. when you won’t let our government protect its own city without permission from the federal government. The expression “heavy is the head that wears the crown” has never been more apt. The responsibility lies with you and with the President. This happened because you tacitly allowed the President, other politicians, Fox News, OANN, Alex Jones, and others, to lie to people about this election. I hope that you understand that we will never forget what your actions have wrought. We hope that it keeps you up at night, but we know that it won’t because you have proved over and over that you really do not care about American citizens in Washington, D.C. Your actions and inactions are directly to blame for what happened.

Do you want to know what life in not “real America” looks like? On Wednesday, my daughter and I went to her orthodontist appointment. His office happens to be about a block from the White House. The decision was made, by me and my husband, after much discussion about the safety concerns. We were very early since we had to navigate around the protest, quickly turned riot, road closures and were unsure of the traffic situation. And, due to the fact that we’re also existing during a pandemic, we didn’t want to spend a lot of extra time in their very small waiting room, so we waited outside. We stood watching, seeing face-to-face, the people who politicians fomented into insurrection.

We didn’t go inside the Starbucks across the street because there was a line of unmasked people inside, one woman wearing an American flag draped across her shoulders like a cape. We decided the best place to wait was near the police car blocking the road because we would, at least, be close to law enforcement if things went pear-shaped. And as an aside, that decision I made is the very essence of white privilege. We knew we had a more than decent chance of being safe with the police. Both of those things, the safety and the white privilege of it all, are the things a parent in Washington, D.C. has to consider when the violent mob, who’ve been told to hate anyone who even looks like a liberal (whatever a liberal looks like) comes to town.

*Update: Friday, January 8, 2020

The school that my children attend, in the city that you insist isn’t “real America”, just had a whole school meeting to explain to the frightened students about the events of Wednesday, January 6, 2020. See, these children, all of the children in the District of Columbia, not in “real America”, don’t get to pretend that it was all just some abstract event they saw on television. They don’t have that luxury. They have to talk about it because it was here, in our home, not just on our television screens.

Now is the time to discuss statehood for Washington, D.C. Now is the time to give voting representation to the 712,000 Americans who live in our nation’s capital. Now is the time to shut your mouths about “real America” if you refuse to acknowledge the very place you’re employed is real America and populated by real Americans.

Yours most disrespectfully,

Katherine P. Ferry

A federal tax paying, non-voting representation having, citizen of Washington, D.C., the Nation’s Capital, and not “real America”

The Streets of Heaven Are Too Crowded with Angels Tonight

Where hope, anger and heartbreak meet in 2020.

I’m rewatching The West Wing. Tonight a line spoke to me, brought tears to my eyes. It felt particularly poignant today, has felt poignant for the last 9 months. The line wasn’t about pandemics, racism, police brutality or federal executions, but damn if it doesn’t seem appropriate.

The streets are Heaven are too crowded with angels tonight.

The West Wing, season four, episode two “20 Hours in America”

Last weekend, the racists came to town. The Proud Boys came to Washington, full of piss and vinegar, ready to show their support for the current Commander in Chief. Well, they certainly showed… something. It was a weekend filled with violence, vandalism, and deafening silence from the man they were showing off for. And, of course, nary a mask in sight.

Between Friday and Saturday nights, four people were stabbed and sent to the hospital with severe wounds, including two police officers, and several others went to the hospital for non-life threatening injuries. They beat people walking down the street that they thought “looked like” antifa, and surrounded cars of suspected liberals (in Washington, they’re not exactly hard to find). They also took the time to rip down the Black Lives Matter banners from at least two historic African-American churches in the city and burn them in the street while screaming “F— Black Lives Matter!”. On Sunday, one man drove around the less visitor-heavy parts of the city with a huge, homemade Trump trailer telling DC residents to have a very Merry Trump Christmas.

When I started this article, it was suggested that it might behoove me to seem slightly less angry, or least give my writing a hopeful tone, and maybe not mention the president. A quote from President John F. Kennedy was sent to me,

“We are not here to curse the darkness, but to light the candle that can guide us through that darkness to a safe and sane future.”

I’ve thought long and hard about that. Here’s what I have to say.

We have to confront the chasms dividing the country because nothing is clear anymore. These divisions cannot be distilled into convenient tropes; Republican versus Democrat, conservative versus liberal, black versus white, or even rich versus poor. It’s so much deeper than that. This is about collective good, confronting painful truths about our country’s extremely flawed past, about truth versus lies. This is about change. Change is inevitable, even when it’s difficult.

We cannot talk about the current state of our country without mentioning Trump. I could refer to him as the president (I have several other names that I’d prefer to use, but will refrain), but we can’t write about what’s happening in the U.S. without referencing the man responsible. Luckily for me, I’ve never been particularly concerned about speaking truth to power when it’s warranted.

I’ve discovered that I can feel hopeful, angry, and heartbroken in equal measure. I am exhausted in my outrage. But I will continue making good trouble, even when, especially when, it’s hard, impolite, and impolitic.

I am hopeful because the majority of Americans did not vote for Trump in the most recent election nor in the previous one. It gives me some hope to see our courts dismiss the Trump campaign’s many lawsuits as frivolous and without any legal merit. I am hopeful because I have seen a rise in the number of outspoken anti-racist white Americans. And, I am hopeful because President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris understand the gravity of the current situation, the challenges ahead, and are approaching them responsibly.

Anger is the dominant emotion for many Americans right now, and we owe that to the president. Nine months into a pandemic, and four years of a president who was never interested in leading the country, we are still grappling with stay-at-home orders, mask mandates, rising death totals, and unemployment numbers. White supremacists have more confidence than ever. They don’t even bother to wear hoods anymore because they know that president won’t call them thugs and send in the National Guard. If anything, his unhinged tweets only fuel the fire.

I will never stop raging about racism or about the failure of leadership we have seen during the last nine months. I refuse to be complicit by my silence. Racists deserve no quarter here and their words should be shouted down. We cannot overstate the harm done to our country because our elected representatives chose to do nothing when faced with hundreds of thousands of American deaths, millions unemployed, and an out of control economic downturn. They have long since abdicated the mantle of leadership. They have left us starving, without work, without help, and many without hope.

I feel those things and I still weep for the dead. As the number of American deaths from COVID-19 begins to exceed 300,000, the news reports about yet another Black man shot by police under questionable circumstances, and know that our federal government has executed nine people so far this year (another seven are scheduled before Inauguration Day), our current leadership turns a blind eye. They choose legally questionable lawsuits, rage tweet rigged election lies, and stand silent while the country burns around us. The president, and those who enable him, are attempting a coup d’état. American citizens are dying and they’re trying to overthrow the election.

When does the collective wail of the majority get to drown out the rantings of the minority? When do our healthcare workers get uninterrupted, unbiased time on every network, in every news outlet to tell their stories, to tell the unvarnished truth? How will we ever make amends to the families of the dead, to the millions unemployed, to the small businesses that have closed, to the school children, because of the country’s leaders’ utter failure to lead?

When history looks back on this time in our country, it will be unequivocally known as one of the darkest periods of the 21st century, and Trump will be seen as one of the, if not the, worst president in the history of the United States.

Americans deserve better than this. Equality for all, doing things for the common good, doesn’t mean that one group will get less while another gets more. When we do more for all people, we all benefit.

As we look to the future, let us remember those who have served our nation nobly, and make ignominious those who have forced the country to serve them.

Fundraiser for Giving Tuesday — Associates for Renewal in Education (ARE)

For this #GivingTuesday on December 1, 2020, and my upcoming birthday, I’m asking people to join me in donating to Associates for Renewal in Education, Inc. (ARE). ARE is a non-profit that helps DC families and children from cradle to career. (Link to fundraiser is below.)

ARE has an early education program for 2-3 year olds, pre-kindergarten for children ages 3-4, before and aftercare programs for children of all ages, career support services for high school students, and a terrific clinical support services autism program that assists young people with Autism Spectrum Disorders in reaching their maximum potential by providing a wide range of therapeutic, rehabilitative, and educational services that develop communication, social and behavior management skills.

I also happen to be a board member. Like many businesses, ARE has had to adapt to the ever-changing COVID times. They have moved programs online, brought students back in small groups when allowed, and are doing the best they can under the circumstances. I would appreciate any support you feel you can give.

The link to donate is on my personal Facebook page, and can be found below.

Thanks so much!

Link to Katy’s Associates for Renewal in Education Fundraiser

Year of Grief, from Traumas New and Old

We are all spent and on edge

Person sitting and bent at the waist, naked from the waist up with back exposed.
Image by Larm Rmah from unsplash.com.

Every day, I read the news. I see the photos. I hear the reports. The grief is palpable. I can feel it pulsing around me, a living, breathing thing that threatens to consume all of us. My anger and my sadness make me want to scream, but no sound escapes. Most days it feels like you’re screaming into the void, so what’s the point? All it would do would scare my daughters.

I feel, I think most of us feel, completely overwhelmed by the misery we see day in and day out on the news, in the papers, and most certainly on social media. We’ve taught our children about deadly viruses, systemic racism and the vitriol spewed by those who perpetuate it, and about why the president of the United States is a bully even though my four year knows that being mean to other people is wrong.

It’s overwhelming to reckon with the fact that there are so many, many people out there who don’t understand that Black Lives Matter isn’t about making one set of lives more important than another, but that for the entire existence of this country, we have made the lives of Black Americans less important, and more threatening, than white ones. Black Lives Matter wants equality, and equity. They are simply saying that all lives can’t matter until Black lives matter as much as white ones. I’m not going to rehash the facts surrounding systemic racism. I did it in May when I wrote A White Woman’s Take on Black Murder. But, suffice it to say that I am almost indescribably angry that I’m writing about yet another Black American man being assaulted by police officers. Jacob Blake didn’t deserve to be paralyzed. Seven shots in the back is not a mistake. That’s calculated and deliberate.

COVID-19 has taken the lives of almost 200,000 Americans and Republican leaders are still calling those losses acceptable. How are the deaths of 200,000 of our citizens acceptable? To whom is this acceptable? And yet, here we are, on the brink of the second wave of the virus (though it can’t really be a second wave if the first wave never actually broke). And, that second wave will combine with flu season so we are sure to see many more deaths in the coming months. It makes me terrified for our future.

I worry that the divides (yes, multiple divides) have become too great; the socio-economic gap that’s never been wider, the new Republican Party and everyone else, the racist and the anti-racist. I worry that we will re-elect a president who has viciously, and unashamedly, torn our country apart. He acts without thought and lacks the capacity for empathy. He loudly claims that he wants “America First!” when it is clear that what he means is “Trump First!” He seems to hate Americans, especially those that don’t look like him, or pledge fealty to him.

But, despite all of my worry, anger, sadness, and grief, I have moments of hopefulness too. I feel hopeful when I see so many people, the world over, marching to demand that Black Lives Matter. When athletes, staff, and other students at the University of Alabama marched to the doors of Foster Auditorium, it was a significant moment. One of my alma mater’s most well-known moments is former Governor George Wallace’s symbolic “stand in the schoolhouse door.” He was trying to uphold his inaugural promise of “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!” The schoolhouse door was the main entrance to Foster Auditorium. When I hear stories of a lone person in a wildly conservative town, marching on behalf of Black Americans even as they endure threats to life and limb, I feel hope. There’s an Instagram account called Erasing Hate. The guy who runs it travels the country, aided by a power washer and an army of volunteer tattoo artists, literally erasing hate from public spaces and from people’s bodies. There is hope in that. There is hope found in the story of David Weissman, a former Trump supporter who changed after a kind and thoughtful interaction with comedian Sarah Silverman on Twitter. We can learn from one another.

It is possible that my hope is nothing more than idealistic nonsense, but I want to believe that the majority of people are decent. There is a great divide, but I hope that it is not completely insurmountable. If we lose all hope, if even that tiny kernel, buried deep within our souls, dies then we lose our chance to fulfill the promise of our country.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” — Declaration of Independence

We Need to be Honest and Call Them Lynchings

Noose. Image by Tamara Gore from Unsplash

Six Black people (four men, one woman, and a teenaged boy) have been found hanging from trees in five states (California, New York, Oregon, Georgia, and Texas) in recent weeks. All of the trees were in public. They’ve all been ruled suicides. There has been sporadic and lackluster coverage of this, for lack of a better word, pattern. I won’t call them events because that would equate them with spectacle and I refuse to use this as entertainment. The word I will use is lynching. Let’s be clear, the strong likelihood is that all of these people were lynched.

Lynching evokes disturbing images and feelings of revulsion. The history of public lynchings as entertainment is well-known. Many more recent lynchings took place in the dark of night because the night provides a cloak for despicable actions and despicable thoughts. Lynchings are, most often, acts of vigilante justice, of ordinary citizens meting out a “punishment” for alleged crimes or for simply being not white. And, as historians can tell us, there is a history of lynchings being ruled as suicides to cover up the reality of murder.

So, what Black person is likely to commit suicide by hanging himself from a tree in public knowing full well the implications of such a thing? Making their own bodies monuments to the horrible institutions that used to rule our country is antithetical to everything they believe.

There are so many unanswered questions. Where is the outrage? Where are the people screaming for justice? The celebrities calling for investigations? There are voices out there. I’ve seen them. But, what’s stopping more vociferous objections to these alleged suicides? Is it that they seem to be unrelated? Or is it that we don’t have enough video evidence of exactly what happened? Do we need a snuff film to feel outraged enough to make a fuss?

The Washington Post, along with some other national and local news outlets, have delved into some of this, but the biggest issue seems to be that the media doesn’t know exactly how to approach these deaths. The facts, at the moment, are clearly murky. But, much like we teach our kids to figure out the meanings of words using context clues, we can look at history to give us context for questioning the official rulings. We may not be able to definitively know these were lynchings, but historical context gives us more than enough reason call and scream for, further investigation. After all, Ahmaud Arbery’s murder was in February and the evidence didn’t materialize until much later. The case was reopened because people refused to be quiet.

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the outrage that has sparked ongoing Black Lives Matter protests around the world, there have been many difficult, but productive conversations and extremely necessary changes.

Congressman John Lewis and fellow protester, Clay Travis

We all want to believe that things are moving forward, especially white people who support the Black Lives Matter statement and continue to educate themselves on how to be anti-racist. Hopefulness is a good thing. It can keep us from wallowing in misery. Hope and belief can spur change. But, we have to face the facts that all of this “good trouble” as Civil Rights icon and current U.S. Congressman John Lewis calls it, has also fomented the hatred of those who have chosen the side of bigotry and racism. Those people are angrier than ever, and the fact that all of this is happening during a pandemic that is unlike anything we in the U.S. have experienced in our lifetimes, doesn’t help. Emotions are on overdrive.

But, just because some of the immediate anger has died down and most of the protests are now non-violent, doesn’t mean the work is done. Say their names.

Robert Fuller, 24, of Palmdale, CA

Malcolm Harsch, 28, of Victorville, CA

Dominique Alexander, 27, Bronx, New York City, NY

Otis/Titi Gulley, 31, Portland, OR (Otis was known as Titi and presented as a woman for most of her life)

Jane Doe, of South Fulton, GA

African-American teenager, Spring, TX

All of us, but especially white people like me, have to keep talking about it and keep working to be anti-racist. Remember that it’s on all of our shoulders to force the necessary changes to our unequal system.

A White Woman’s Take on Black Murder

Our Role in Dismantling Systemic Racism

Image of protesters in Minneapolis, MN.
Image of protesters in Minneapolis, MN. Photo credit to Carlos Gonzalez, Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Hello? Is there anyone there?

I can’t tell anymore.

The news the last few months has been nothing short of horrifying, with more than one day including tears. We don’t sleep well anymore. Our minds and bodies are stressed and our attention spans are nonexistent. But, we have to keep reading, keep listening, and keep fighting for what is right. We have to care about our communities and ourselves.

Our African-American brothers and sisters are being murdered, harassed, and dying at alarming rates, and in the worst of ways. It has to stop. It must stop.

Oh, you thought this was going to be another article about COVID-19? It’s not, not really. I will, however, include this information. The American Hospital Association provided testimony to Congress on May 27, 2020, that COVID-19 disproportionately affects communities of color.

February 23, 2020 — Ahmaud Arbery, an African-American was shot and killed in Glynn County, GA after being chased by three white men, who thought he matched a description of someone accused of several break-ins in the area. In April, two months after the event, the three men were charged with murder, after the video was published and shared on social media.

March 13, 2020 — Louisville, KY police officers executing a search warrant on the incorrect apartment, in the middle of the night, shot Breonna Taylor, eight times after her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker shot at the police, thinking it was intruders. They charged (the charges were later dismissed) Mr. Walker with assault and attempted murder and the officers have not been charged with any crimes.

May 25, 2020 — Christian Cooper, a science publications editor and avid birdwatcher, was harassed and had the police called on him by Amy Cooper, when he asked her to leash her dog. She has since lost her job and her dog.

May 26, 2020 — video footage was published online of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN. He died in the street, with a white male officer’s knee on his neck, begging for mercy and begging for his mother. The officers involved in the incident have been fired from the police force.

“Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.” — John Stuart Mill

Why did it take the filming of a public murder to get people’s attention?

None of these events needed to happen. None of these events should have happened. And, we should not tacitly allow it to continue. As white people, our privilege affords us a voice that is often louder than people of color. We are believed more often, seen as less threatening, and more knowledgeable, even when we continue to prove that none of those things are true. Why aren’t we listening? We can see the footage with our own eyes.

The incidents above are just the recent ones. Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland and Philando Castile all came before. Countless other incidents and aggressions that we don’t hear about happen every day. We can hear the pleas for help and the anguished cries of African-Americans all over the country. African-American mothers and fathers are terrified by what they see. They fear raising black children in this environment. Adult black men and women, spanning the entire socio-economic strata, tell us their stories, the ones that aren’t seen on social media. We know that it’s now dangerous to exercise, sleep in your own apartment, walk, birdwatch, get traffic tickets, and wear hoodies while black. To bring it to a fine point, it is dangerous to exist while black.

Why aren’t we listening? Why do we keep saying, “Not all white people!” Of course it’s not all white people. No one believes that all white people are racist, afraid of people of color or angry at people of color. But, it is white people who aren’t listening, who aren’t taking this seriously, and aren’t owning up to the fact that the system is rigged in our favor. I refuse to stand idly by while people I care about are hurt and afraid. If you think that systemic racism isn’t real or that white privilege doesn’t exist, I suggest you educate yourself. Just google it. There are hundreds of resources to learn from. Sarah Sophie Flicker and Alyssa Klein compiled a Google document of anti-racist resources for adults and children. Robyn Hamontree, from Tuscaloosa, AL, wrote a Twitter thread of books that she’s read to help her “understand her role as a white person in perpetuating and dismantling racism”. Both are excellent and worth exploring.

We, as white people, have to stop assuming that we aren’t part of the problem, that we even fully understand the problem. We don’t. We have not been born in skin that is inherently viewed as “bad”. Light and dark, good and evil. All of it relates. We benefit from it, even when we don’t realize it. The benefit of the doubt is always given to us, and the suspicion is always placed on people of color. It’s time to acknowledge the truth. I, for one, will no longer be quiet for the sake of propriety or so I don’t hurt the feelings of someone who thinks that this is an attack. Is anyone listening anymore? I sure as hell hope so because the message is literally life or death.

“Please. I can’t breathe.” — George Floyd

The Equality Fight Continues and Is More Important than Ever

The Supreme Court is expected to rule on whether employers have the right to fire employees based on their sexual orientation and gender identity

SPOILER: Opinions ahead

“I’d like to live to be old.” — Bren Osborn

In October of last year, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in three cases that will determine whether it is legal for a company to fire a worker solely based on sexual orientation and/or gender. Bluntly, the Court’s decision will decide whether workplace discrimination against the LGBTQIA community is legal. A decision in the cases is expected by late June, just before the court’s summer recess.I was outside the court building that day in September, witnessing the demonstrations and interviewing participants. But I’ve been sitting on the story ever since. Honestly, I wasn’t sure how to write it correctly, to give it due justice, and I was afraid. I was trying to be objective, keep myself out of it so that I could let the participants’ stories speak for themselves. I was wrong to do that. This is fundamentally subjective. The arguments are posed as legal questions, but are based in emotion, not the flat objectivity expected of the law. I am not LGBTQIA, but I am an ally. I want to be clear about something. I want you, the reader, to unequivocally understand that I have chosen a side. And, while a big part of my feelings about the LGBTQIA community are just that, feelings, there is another, much more objective side.I was taught to “pick a side” and defend it. My reasoning here is easy: it’s the human condition. If I am a thoughtful member of society, looking at this with “open minds, clear hearts” (thanks to Friday Night Lights for the expression), I should be on the side of non-discrimination. I don’t have any family members, that I’m aware of, that are part of the LGBTQIA community. I have friends that are, but that shouldn’t matter. What matters is that we treat everyone equally and that we all endeavor to understand that we are fundamentally still the same, no matter what we look like or who we love. I’ve given a lot of thought as to why I feel the way I do. I’ve discovered that all of my reasons boil down to one simple idea, the most basic idea, “Do unto to others as you would have them do unto you.” The Golden Rule, in one form or another, exists in almost every religion. According to the Bible, Jesus of Nazareth said it was the second greatest commandment (Mark 12:31). I think of how I hope my parents would treat me and how I hope to respond as a parent if one of my children comes out to us.This trifecta of cases revolves around R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC (Aimee Stephens), Altitude Express v. Zarda (Donald Zarda) and Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia. The first case involves Aimee Stephens, a woman fired from her job for being transgender. The next two (which have since been consolidated into one case), involve people being fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation.In 1964, the Civil Rights Act was passed. Our country decided that people could not be discriminated against on the basis of skin color. We cannot deny someone a home, a bank account, a car, a job, even groceries based on their skin color or religion. This is no different. Fear of something, or a lack of understanding, does not give us the right to discriminate. Just because there are some who fear homosexuals or transgendered people does not mean we get to discriminate against them. They are people, just like you and me. But, in our country, discrimination is a crime. And, this is discrimination. Homophobia and transphobia does not give us the right to deny their ability to care for themselves and their families. It does not give us the right to tell them that they aren’t allowed to exist in public. Your discomfort does not trump their right to life.
Unpacking the Cases¹There are two main arguments being discussed in these cases. The first argument is whether discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender orientation is a violation of Title VII, which makes it illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of sex. The justices had some interesting questions for the attorneys. In the case of the man who was fired for being gay, they posited that this may fall under Title VII because if it were a woman who preferred men she would not be fired, thus “on the basis of sex” would be in effect. As for the transgender woman, the argument is that it is discrimination “on the basis of sex” because if the woman had been assigned a female gender at birth, she would not be fired or denied promotions for being insufficiently feminine. But, because the transgender woman was assigned a male gender at birth, despite now being a female, she is being discriminated against for being insufficiently masculine. The second argument is whether forcing someone to hire a homosexual or transgendered person would violate the employer’s First Amendment right to freedom of religion. The businesses involved in these cases are not churches, temples, synagogues or mosques. They are not even explicitly religious businesses. I am of the belief that the right to do something exists only insofar as it does not infringe upon someone else’s safety. Allowing this kind of discrimination in the name of religious freedom does infringe on others’ safety. If homosexuals and transgendered people are not allowed to hold jobs without fear or worry that they could be fired at any moment, it creates major instability in their lives. Employment and money are necessities. A person’s religious beliefs should not give employers the right to discriminate against someone who doesn’t share their beliefs. Those same arguments were used when our country allowed discrimination on the basis of skin color and religion. They were deemed invalid then, and they should be deemed invalid now. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That’s what our founding documents say. Those same documents also showed us that our Founding Fathers thought African-Americans were only three-fifths of a person and were actually chattel, not human beings. Our country has, ostensibly, evolved into a better understanding that the founding fathers were wrong, slavery was an abomination, and that African-Americans, and other people of color, are no different than Caucasians. The same can be said about the gay and trans community. They have lives and relationships and jobs and stories. Please read their words. Read with an open mind and an open heart. Please understand that the outcome of these cases will literally affect their entire lives, their entire existence. If we have all agreed that discriminating on the basis of skin color is unacceptable and illegal, we should all agree that this is illegal too. Discrimination, in any form, is wrong.

Their Stories, Their Words

The quote at the top of this piece is the cornerstone of all of this. People want to be able to live their lives and not fear an early death. That’s a reasonable request. But, let’s discuss it for a moment. The first case mentioned above is about a transgender woman who was fired because of her gender identity. While the oft-cited statistic that the average life expectancy of a transgender, African-American woman in the U.S. is 35, is incorrect, the life expectancy of the transgender community is still significantly lower than that of cisgender community. In 2017, 29 transgender persons died due to fatal violence, the most ever recorded. The number went down to 26 in 2018 and 25 died as a result of fatal violence in 2019. Yes, the numbers are decreasing, but they’re still far too high. And, black trans women are disproportionately affected by this violence. —Statistics provided by the Human Rights Campaign Violence Against the Transgender Community in 2019

JoDee Winterhof, left, and Masen Davis, right. Photo is author’s own.
JoDee Winterhof, left, and Masen Davis, right. Photo is author’s own.

I spoke with Ms. JoDee Winterhof, Senior Vice-President of Public Policy and Political Affairs for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and Mr. Masen Davis, former CEO of Freedom for All Americans to get their perspectives on this issue. “This is important because discrimination actually happens,” Ms. Winterhof said. “These three cases show that. If someone faces discrimination just to have a job, how can they live their lives? It is already illegal to discriminate against people for their sexual orientation and gender identity in the banking and housing sectors. These jobs are a part of that as well. It should be illegal to fire someone because of sexual orientation and gender identity.” “As a gay man and transgender man who came out 20 years ago when there were almost no protections, these cases are the most pivotal for me, in my life, and for the LGBTQ people who live in the 30 states where protections don’t exist,” Mr. Davis said. “They deserve to take care of themselves and their families and it is not so easy.” He also said, “It is personal. I want to make sure that young gay, and trans, kids in Missouri (Mr. Davis’s birthplace) don’t feel like they have to move away to be themselves or love who they love.”

Carmen Guzmán, left and Ikeita Cantú, right. Photo is author’s own.
Carmen Guzmán, left and Ikeita Cantú, right. Photo is author’s own.

The story told to me by Carmen Guzmán was chilling and heartbreaking. She wrote, “I was thrown down the stairs in high school just because people thought I was queer. Later, I was disowned by my adoptive parents because I became fully actualized. Equal=equal.”Her wife, Ikeita Cantú said, “We are all God’s children. Every human being has inherent dignity and value and is worthy of respect. No one deserves to be treated like a second-class citizen. All we want is equality — nothing more, nothing less.”Ms. Guzmán and Ms. Cantú were celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary. Ten years ago, there was no federal right allowing gay marriage. That decision wasn’t handed down by the Supreme Court until 2015. And even after it was decided, at least one state attempted to circumvent the law by closing marriage license offices and refusing to issue marriage licenses to any couples, gay or straight. The message from all of these people is the same at its heart. Please remember that they are human beings, just like everyone else. They do not want to go to work each day worried that they might be fired simply because of who they are or who they love.

“Separating our lives isn’t possible for us. It’s not politics, it’s our lives and I want to fight for it.” — Katie Marrinan

“I am here today for freedom for all Americans. Queer rights are human rights.” — Darnell Smith

Or messages from those who asked to remain anonymous.“Equality. Protecting people’s rights. The rights of all citizens of our country.”

“Everyone should have the right to work or make a living without discrimination. All genders, all people are important.”

Photo of religious leaders marching for LGBTQIA rights. Photo is author’s own.
Photo of religious leaders marching for LGBTQIA rights. Photo is author’s own.

Religious leaders demonstrated as well. These two, an African-American man and a white woman, led a group of demonstrators in the chant: “No fear! No hate! No license to discriminate!” Their group organized a sit-in, blocking 1st Street, NE between the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Capitol. Others came from out of town because they felt it was too important to stay home and hope for the best.

Marquise Vilson, left, and Jevon Martin, right. Photo is author’s own.
Marquise Vilson, left, and Jevon Martin, right. Photo is author’s own.

Jevon Martin is the Founder and CEO of Princess Janae Place, Inc., a homeless shelter and safe space in New York City, for those in the transgender, non-conforming community. He founded Princess Janae Place in 2015 after an increase in the city’s homeless population. Mr. Martin, and others, came by bus to be at the demonstration. He wrote, “This is important for us to be here because our rights matter. We have been fighting this fight for many years. These are basic human rights. We deserve to live freely, to be who we are.”Marquise Vilson, an actor and friend of Mr. Martin, also attended. He said: “Our lives depend on it, being here, speaking up, being seen. We cannot be erased. It’s time for this country to acknowledge that queer+ communities are human beings and deserve civil rights.”

These are real people. They have real lives and this decision will affect those lives. Their lives and livelihoods will be in jeopardy. Because, while the protections exist in other sectors like banking or housing, if they cannot continue to work without fear of being fired, the other things don’t matter. They cannot maintain bank accounts or pay rent or mortgages without jobs. It will affect their mental health. Imagine having to hide who you are, every moment of every day, just so you can keep, or get, a job. Imagine the fear and the worry. Discrimination should never be tolerated, and it is incumbent on all of us to make sure it isn’t.

¹ Information regarding the arguments was sourced from scotusblog.com.

The Brazen and Beautiful Legacy of Strong-Willed Women

My maternal grandfather called us “strong-willed women”. It was a point of pride with him. I come from a long line of strong-willed women, on both sides of my family, and I am better for it. I mean, there is literally a park in my dad’s hometown named after my grandmother. Pennington Park was a piece of land, owned for many years by my grandparents. After my grandmother’s death, they turned it into a park for the arts and music. So let me tell you about the amazing women in my family.

My Grandmothers

Grandmother with grandchildren
My grandmother with her two oldest great-grandchildren, about three years ago. Photo altered to protect children’s privacy.

My paternal grandmother, Johnnie Fae (we called her Fonnie), graduated from high school at 15, college at 19, then worked for two years and received her master’s degree at 22. She taught Spanish, typing and business math for many, many years. She was also known for her willingness to speak her mind. Fonnie had strong opinions and wasn’t afraid to voice them. On separate occasions she told me that women should have the right to make choices about their own bodies (I was around 12 at the time) and, later, that it was fine with her if I lived with my then boyfriend, now husband (I was in my mid-20s at this point). She was simultaneously progressive and traditional. Fonnie once scolded me, when I was an adult, for saying yeah to her in conversation instead of yes m’am. Yes, I grew up in the Deep South in Alabama. She also got into it with a minister at her church because she didn’t like the way he was conducting Sunday services.

Vintage photo of a young woman
My maternal grandmother, as a young woman. She died when I was 9, so don’t have many photos of her.

My other grandmother, my mom’s mom, may not have been as outspoken, but was equally strong-willed. Petrina, nickname Teeny, (we called her Ma) was the first female senior class president at her high school and starred in several school plays. She attended college for two years (at that time women were only allowed to go for two years at the college she attended). In 1931, during the height of the Depression, she opened her own elocution school, teaching public speaking and elocution to Mobile, Alabama’s young adults. Her father had died when she was in her early teens and she had to help her mother keep a roof over their heads. Her mother took in borders to help pay the bills.The Depression helped shape both my grandmothers into the amazing women they were.

My Mother

Woman holding her poker chip winnings
My mama hoarding her winnings after beating all of us at Texas Hold’em this summer.

My mother’s story is one filled with female empowerment and fortitude. My mama, Andrea, is the oldest of her three siblings. When my uncle, 10 years younger than my mom, was born, my grandfather, a car dealer, gave her a car. Yeah, you read that right. It was called a King Midget. It was a micro car, or as my mama described it, a souped-up golf cart. My mother was in the fifth grade. She once drove a gigantic 1950s sedan across Mobile Bay when she was only 12 years old. She and my grandfather went to a march held in Mobile, Alabama after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. She attended President Kennedy’s funeral parade in Washington, DC after his assassination.After graduating from college with a degree in math, my mother became a computer programmer at a bank. She did that for seven years before deciding she wanted to go to law school. My mom was one of 20 women in her 1L class at the University of Alabama School of Law, and by the time she graduated, she was one of only five women left. She went on to open a law practice with my dad, and eventually became a juvenile court judge. She served in the role of Court Referee (a judge appointed to the role by an elected judge) for 28 years. At the time of her retirement, she was the longest-serving political appointee in the state, and the most senior judge on the bench. She once told me that she wasn’t a feminist. But, when you talk to her about her life, she says, “Well, I just did what I wanted. I always thought that if men could do it, I could do it, so I did.” If that’s not a feminist, I don’t know what is!

The Aunts

Image by simpsongirl2003 from someecards.com.
Image by simpsongirl2003 from someecards.com.

My aunt Robin, my mother’s sister, is equally incredible. She got a bachelor’s degree in English, birthed and raised four children, then went back to school and got a master’s in counseling. She worked with kids in group homes for several years and eventually became the Executive Director of an arts non-profit. Now, she’s a writer, a gun control advocate and community volunteer. In Alabama. She, despite the fact that it is an extremely unpopular opinion in my home state, volunteers tirelessly for Moms Demand, speaking to groups about the need for common sense laws around gun ownership. She has encouraged me to write and is a terrific mom and grandmother.My aunt Rosalie, my dad’s sister, was an elementary school librarian for 30-ish years. She adored the kids at her school and all of her nieces and nephews. Rosalie’s book lists and expertise helped shape my reading experience and turn me into the voracious reader I am today. Books like Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and Island of the Blue Dolphins. She and her husband have traveled all over during the course of their marriage, whether abroad or working on their goal of visiting all fifty states. She has supported, and loved me and my sister, like we are her own children and does the same for our kids.My aunt, Evie, my mom’s brother’s wife, is incredible as well. She’s a breast cancer survivor. She is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and is Supervisor, General Ledger and Compliance, at Airgas’s South Division. She kept it all together when things were difficult in her life. Evie has raised two amazing daughters and showed us all what true love and fortitude really are.

The Next Generation—My sister and me

The author and her sister.
The author and her younger sister, earlier this year.

Where do I start with my sister’s story? I mean, she’s so much more badass than I will ever be. Anna is my younger sister and just enough younger that she spent a lot of time feeling like she was living in my shadow, especially at school. But, she, like she always has, shined all on her own. She was both president of the student government and homecoming queen her senior year of high school. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from college with double majors in political science and urban planning. She is now the Vice President of Marketing for a billion dollar company. Oh, and she has three kids, with the oldest being eight! She’s smart and tough, and sweet and thoughtful, has the ability to hold her own in a boardroom full of men or as a volunteer in a lunchroom full of elementary school students at her son’s school without blinking an eye.Now, my story has a few twists and turns. I’ve been outspoken and bubbly all my life. I once asked an extremely pointed question to a U.S. Congressman when I was about 14, and a guest at the local Kiwanis Club lunch meeting. The Congressman was the featured speaker and I, being the daughter of two attorneys and more than a little sure of myself, asked a question, much to the delight of many of the Kiwanians. Needless to say, word got out to my parents before I could tell them. They were both proud of me, though my mother was a little more chagrined than my dad. He was just plain thrilled. I’ve never been one to keep my opinions to herself and I have the facts to back them up. I worked in the non-profit sector for a long time, in leadership roles in both professional and volunteer capacities. I moved, with my husband and daughter, to Madrid, Spain for four years, even though I knew no Spanish. We had a second daughter while living there and now I speak decent Spanish. And, I write.Strong-willed women are often described as hard or nasty or bitchy. But, in the always appropriate words of Tina Fey, “Bitches get stuff done.” Long live the strong-willed women! May we continue to push the envelope, speak our minds and influence the generations to come!

To the Amazing People Who Make Our Lives Safer

Thank you to all of the gig, service, delivery, postal and healthcare workers

NOTE: A version of this was originally published on February 20, 2020 at medium.com/@katyferry. I feel like it is more important than ever to acknowledge our service workers, our “essential” workers who are keeping the country running while deal with COVID-19. This has been updated and edited.I see you. You’re walking dogs, walking babies, buying and delivering groceries, delivering meals, mail and packages. You’re working in hospitals, nursing homes and as home healthcare workers. It rained steadily for two days in Washington, DC and kept it up for most of that week. I sat in the coffee shop, facing the windows. I love people watching. I saw nannies with adorable babies in strollers with rain covers. I saw doctors coming home from a shift at the hospital. I was surrounded by other freelance workers and students. When you work in an office, you can forget how much happens during the day. So, as I sat there watching, I decided to express my appreciation for the people that make our lives easier. It’s necessary work,” essential” work, these days, as our lives and daily routines have changed so enormously. You’re doing it in the rain, the boiling heat and the snow. You are the recipient of happy doggy smiles and the gummy grins of babies. You hear the delighted laughter of toddlers. You also hear the cries and change the diapers. You pick up poop and walk for miles. You walk the grocery store aisles searching for the specific products requested by strangers. You wear gloves and masks, work without the proper protection equipment, and it still may not be enough. You work when others are “self-distancing” and staying or working from home. And now, you are on the frontlines of an invisible war. You are trying to help, asking all the right questions, watching as people die and worrying about whether you’ll be the next to get the virus. You are healthcare workers, grocery store employees, delivery drivers, ride share drivers, public transportation employees, restaurant workers and baristas. The U.S. Labor Secretary is using his position to undermine new laws enacted by Congress to make it more difficult for gig workers to receive much-needed unemployment benefits and makes it easier for some businesses to get away with not paying for coronavirus-related sick and family leave and complaining that he doesn’t want people to get addicted to government aid by writing on the Fox Business website that, “We want workers to work, not to become dependent on the unemployment system. Unemployment is not the preferred outcome when government stay-at-home orders force temporary business shutdowns.” These actions and comments are both demeaning to the millions of suddenly unemployed Americans and to those Americans still going to work and risking their health to do it. I want you to know that most of your fellow citizens do not feel this way. We value you and the work you are doing. We value our friends, neighbors and strangers who have found themselves without work in recent days.

Sidewalk chalk message reads: Stay Strong! Stay Safe! Stay Six Feet Apart!
Sidewalk chalk message by my daughters and a friend, for our neighbors, friends and “essential” employees. Image was taken, and is owned by, the author.

Thank you. Thank you for your hard work. Thank you for doing the work that means so much we sometimes can’t find the words to express our gratefulness. And, thank you for doing the work that we take for granted. It is incredibly important. I know you often don’t get paid enough for the work you do. It’s hard. It’s tedious and often repetitive. It’s joyful and fun. It’s simultaneously silly and deadly serious.I just wanted you all to know that someone sees your work and appreciates the time and effort it takes. Thanks for doing the work that makes our lives easier and safer.

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