Thursday, December 31, 2015

Discrimination, Violence & Death: The Reality For Transgender Women Of Color In 2015

by Richy Rosario
Originally Published: December 29th, 2015

2015 marked a big year for the trans community, but as they gained more recognition, its most vulnerable members faced persecution.

The sun is shining bright inside the Starbucks on 14th Street and Eighth Avenue. On this warm October afternoon, Tamara Williams is sitting on a small couch with her back pressed up against the coffee shop’s storefront window. Looking wholesome, she is wearing light blue jeans, white sneakers and a light purple tee emblazoned with cartoony, Asian restaurant-inspired take out containers, which bear the words: “Take me out! Thank You.” Red plastic earrings cling to her ears, as her honey blonde ombre styled hair flows below her shoulders. “I did it yesterday!” she gushes with a smile, referring to her new hairdo. But as the natural light is making her blonde locks and brown eyes glisten, the 26-year-old black transgender woman from the Bronx is recounting some of her darkest memories.

At 17, when Tamara told her mom of her decision to transition, she was swiftly kicked out of her home, forced to live on the streets and engage in sex work as a means for survival. Later, she developed an addiction to MDMA, popping five to 10 a week. That is, in addition to smoking weed and drinking. She says her substance abuse was a coping mechanism to help get her though her harsh reality. Eventually, Williams discovered she was HIV-positive when she was 22 after a stint in rehab for her drug addiction. And in the midst of all this, for three years she was involved in an emotionally and physically abusive relationship with a transgender man, who she says never accepted her for who she was. He wanted someone who physically looked like Rihanna, and she just wanted to be loved.

“This scar right here under my eyebrow is from us fighting one night,” she says, pointing to her left eyelid. “He was bear hugging me and we were rolling on the floor, and as I was trying to get out, I hit my head on the radiator and began to bleed.”

CREDIT: VIBE/ Stacy-Ann Ellis

Stories like Tamara’s are far too common among transgender women of color. Statistics show that black transgender women are more susceptible to homelessness, HIV infection, doing sex work and violence.

Amid all of these challenges, violence against transgender women of color in 2015 became a nationwide epidemic. A recent report by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) states that this year, at least 21 transgender individuals in the United States were victims of fatal violence.

That makes it the highest number of killings of transgender people in comparison to any other year on record. According to the HRC, more transgender people were killed in the first six months of this year than in all of 2014. “While we don’t know many details about these victims’ experiences, research shows that transgender people face harassment and discrimination in numerous contexts throughout their lives,” the report reads. “Moreover, we know that the chances of facing discrimination, harassment and violence increase exponentially for transgender women of color, who also face racism and sexism. For many transgender women of color, the threat of violence is constant.”
“If there is blood in your body, there is life in your body. And just because of that, you deserve to live. It’s simple.” —Tamara W.

Experts say that part of the reason why transgender women of color are more prone to violence than their white counterparts is because of the ingrained hyper-masculine attitudes coupled with insular religious mindsets that plague their communities.

“For men of color to be seen or openly acknowledge that they love a transgender woman, or have been with a transgender woman, goes against the norm,” says Octavia Lewis, Executive Director of the Islan Nettles Community Project. “We also have to look at how religion plays a factor in men of color. And how everyone has been beat over the head to think that homosexuality is a sin, and even still categorize us as men. So with all of that stigma that comes from our own communities, that’s why we are so susceptible to violence because of what has been instilled in the men that love women of trans experience, and especially women of color.”

CREDIT: VIBE/ Stacy-Ann Ellis

Tamara knows firsthand what it’s like to be taunted and harassed for being a woman of trans experience from men in her community. One incident in particular sticks out. In her old stomping grounds in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx, she recalls fearing for her life while being chased by a group of teenage boys. “It all happened because one of the drug dealers around, who always tried to get with me,” she says nervously, swirling a straw wrapper around her fingers. “So one day I was walking past a group of kids, and he told them, ‘That’s a man, that’s a man!’ And I was like, ‘No the f**k I’m not.’ It was a whole bunch of them. I was very scared and I didn’t want to reveal that I was trans. I just kept walking and said, ‘That’s my boyfriend right there, he’s just acting stupid.’ They was like ‘Yo, that’s your girlfriend?’ He was like, ‘Nah, f**k out of here that’s a man.’” She kept walking, but eight of them ran around the corner after her. “I was on the phone, too,” she continues. “All I can remember is running on the phone and telling my friend, ‘I’m running from these people, if you don’t hear me no more call the police.’”

Despite the chase, Tamara made it home safely, but the harassment didn’t stop there. The boys then proceeded to break one of the windows in her house. When she told the police about the incident, they told her they couldn’t do anything because they didn’t know the boys’ names, even though they lived two houses down from where she lived. A report released by The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Program states that in 2014, transgender people of color were .59 times less likely to receive a hate violence classification by the police. Yet they were 1.6 times more likely to experience some type of physical violence.

Because of the negligence to report hate crimes against transgender people, often times these cases get lost in the shuffle. Despite the federal hate crimes law that requires the collection of statistical data related to the violence against transgender people, experts question the accuracy of the numbers they are getting. “A lot of jurisdictions report zeroes, even in places where we know there are hate crimes,” Mara Keisling, Executive Director of The National Center for Transgender Equality, told TIME earlier this year.

CREDIT: VIBE/ Stacy-Ann Ellis

But what happens when transgender people take matters into their own hands and fight back against their predators? What does the law do then? In June of 2011, when Chrishuan “CeCe” McDonald, a 23-year-old black transgender woman from Minneapolis, Mn. was making her way to a supermarket when she was attacked by 47-year-old Dean Schmitz and his ex-girlfriend, Molly Flaherty. Initially, Schmitz started hurling out racial, homophobic and transphobic slurs to CeCe and four of her friends (all of whom are African-American). The altercation eventually got physical, with Flaherty slashing CeCe on the side of her face with a glass tumbler. CeCe had to get a total of 11 stitches, according to MPR News. After the incident, CeCe then proceeded to walk away and managed to get half a block when she heard her friends calling, “watch your back,” according to “The Transgender Crucible,” a story on CeCe by Sabrina Rubin Erderly for Rolling Stone. Schmitz—who was high on cocaine and meth at the time—was lunging at CeCe with fury with all intent of taking her down.

When CeCe took notice, she reached for a pair of scissors she had in her purse and ended up stabbing him in the chest to defend herself. Schmitz later succumbed to his injuries and died. CeCe was sentenced to 41 months in a men’s state prison for second-degree manslaughter. She plead guilty to the counts because she felt that with a mostly all-white jury, she had no chance at winning. Eventually, CeCe was released after serving 19 months at a Minnesota Correctional Facility in St. Cloud. Her good behavior, and the 275 days she served prior to trial, were her ticket out of jail. Flaherty also ended up being sentenced to six months while CeCe was in prison.

Still, it’s a no brainer that CeCe was just acting in self-defense.

Experts echo these sentiments, and want to make it a point to convey the realities most transgender women succumb to. “As trans-people, we hear about murders of trans-people in that same circumstance that CeCe was in. The usual result is the person is dead — that is, the trans-person is dead. Every trans-person in the country in their heart knows that she was in danger of dying right there at that moment,” Keisling told MPR News back in 2012. She believes CeCe was ultimately punished for surviving the attack, which means that more needs to be done in our judicial system to help protect the rights of transgender people.

“Police officers and courts are generally incredibly biased against transgender people, and especially against transgender people of color,” says Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “If they know that someone is a transgender woman, most often they immediately discount that person and assume that person is the one breaking the law. Or should be punished, even if they are being victimized. We need to address that through police training, and judicial training.”

CREDIT: VIBE/ Stacy-Ann Ellis

Amid all the violence, however, the transgender movement has gained significant visibility throughout the years. The year 2014 marked the first time in history a transgender person has graced the cover of TIME magazine, with an image of Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black star, Laverne Cox (who is making a documentary about CeCe McDonald’s experience in the legal system, titled FREE CeCe) as cover girl. In 2015, Olympic Decathlon Champion Bruce Jenner transitioned to Caitlyn Jenner, and won an Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPY Awards in a white Versace gown. Jenner also recently won Glamour’s coveted Women of the Year award, which garnered some controversy after her acceptance speech. In it, she said the “hardest part about being a woman is figuring out what to wear.”

Controversial or not, it’s safe to say these women have made important strides for the trans community as a whole. But they are an exception to the rule and don’t accurately represent their everyday counterparts. Most transgender people are disadvantaged both economically and socially. According to a report by the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, transgender people are four times more likely to live in extreme poverty, making less than $10,000 a year in comparison to the rest of the population.

Violence, poverty and discrimination continue to haunt and take the lives of transgender people at alarming rates in this country. Inevitably, something has to change, and it can all start with how our communities perceive transgender people. Minter says the trans community has to work together as whole to change the mindsets of those who are prejudice against transgender people. “We’ve got to change everybody’s understanding and attitudes,” he notes. “We have to change how people see transgender lives, as having value and importance.“

Tamara agrees. For her, anything that is living, matters. “Valuing each other as humans is not about your color, or your gender. If there is blood in your body— there is life in your body. And just because of that, you deserve to live,” she says. “It’s simple.”

CREDIT: VIBE/ Stacy-Ann Ellis

Eight weeks after our sit down interview back in October, it’s now a rainy afternoon in Downtown Manhattan. Today, Dec. 1, marks World AIDS Day, and after a photo shoot for this story, Tamara will be on her way to rehearsals for a play at the Bronx Museum of the Arts in honor of today’s commemoration of the pandemic. She is a student nearby at Borough of Manhattan Community College, majoring in theater. But right now, her main stage is the corner of Church Street and Reade, beneath a construction scaffold concealed by a navy blue cover. Her hair is dyed all black, fixed into a bun. She has on a navy blue jacket, and a pair of jeans. Very much dressed down. “How does my close-up look?” she asks the photographer. Like a true natural, she doesn’t need much direction.

As she is twirling away, putting on make-up, smiling and working it for the camera, a middle aged Latino man sporting glasses and a black sweater randomly interrupts the shoot. “What’s going on here?” he shouts with a smile. He then jumps in to put his arm around her and quickly poses for a shot. As he walks away he shouts, “You go girl!”

Read the original article from VIBE here:

Meet the amazing LGBT women who defined 2015

by Kaite Welsh
Originally Published: December 30th, 2015

Earlier this year, the Independent on Sunday came out with their 2015 Rainbow List of the 101 most influential LGBTI people in the UK. I was number 100, meaning I have slightly less influence than, say, the phenomonally talented actor Rebecca Root, but more than Conservative MP Crispin Blunt (although he would beat me in a list of ‘people whose names sound like slang for marijuana’).
It ticked an item off my bucket list unexpectedly early – next up is ‘become the new Doctor Who’ so watch out, Peter Capaldi. But it also got me thinking about the LGBT women who have defined my 2015. Here they are:
Lea DeLaria
Lea DeLaria has been flying the flag for fat butch dykes for years, but the third season of TV show Orange is the New Black gave her the biggest platform yet.
DeLaria (left) with Natasha Lyonne in Orange Is The New Black
DeLaria (left) with Natasha Lyonne in Orange Is The New Black
It was the turn of her character Big Boo to get an entire episode dedicated to exploring her backstory. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when she turned to her disapproving parents and told them “I refuse to be invisible.”

Carrie Brownstein

The Portlandia star and Sleater-Kinney frontwoman brought out her hotly anticipated memoir Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl this autumn.
Carrie Brownstein performs with Sleater-Kinney at the Roundhouse in London 
Carrie Brownstein performs with Sleater-Kinney at the Roundhouse in London  CREDIT: REX
Recounting her early years raised by an anorexic mother and a closeted gay father through to life as a key figure in the riot grrrl movement, it’s one of the best books about music, queerness and feminism in recent years.

Mhairi Black

The political success story of the year, if not the decade, Black swept to victory as the SNP candidate for Paisley, displacing Douglas Alexander from what was once a Labour stronghold before she’d even finished her degree. At 21, she was the youngest MP elected in 350 years.
Mhairi Black
She got a first and went on to become one of Scotland’s favourite public figures after her maiden speech in the House of Commons went viral. Props.

Caitlin Stasey

Not content with starring in hit feminist costume drama Reign (think The Tudors but with less nudity and more female empowerment than a Women’s Studies lecture) queer actress Caitlin Stasey made headlines in January when she launched
Caitlin Stasey, the creator of 
Caitlin Stasey, the creator of  CREDIT: JENNIFER TOOLE
The website interviews non-famous women about sex and body image, and is packed to the rafters with non-exploitative, un-airbrushed images of naked women that she describes as “female form in all its honesty without the burden of the male gaze.” On top of that, she’s a gifted actor and her Twitter account bristles with righteous anger.

Susan Herr

Thanks to Herr’s style website DapperQ, I now know what a pocket square is - and how much I need one. A teacher and activist, she started the cult fashion blog for butch and androgynous women, proving that fashion isn’t just for femmes. 

Roz Kaveney

Poet, critic and former deputy chair of Liberty, Kaveney was a founding member of Feminists Against Censorship and can most often be found writing about pop culture and trans rights.
Roz Kaveney
Her semi-autobiographical novel,  Tiny Pieces of Skull, published earlier this year, tackles sex work, transphobia and love - with Kaveney’s customary brand of empathy, wit and fury.

Ilene Chaiken

The L Word was guilty pleasure viewing for queer women - as if Carrie Bradshaw had opted for the same sex but a different city. At a time when lesbian representation was usually limited to one or two queer women in a plotline billed as “controversial,” we had an entire show to ourselves – a surfeit of Sapphists, a plethora of power dykes, a cornucopia of cunning linguists.
Ilene Chaiken
While straight girls wondered if they were more of a Carrie or a Samantha, we finally got to play too – were we androgynous ladykiller Shane, ambitious but self-destructive Bette or pretentious, egocentric Jenny? These days Chaiken is producing US hit Empire, a drama about a hip-hop dynasty that’s chock full of LGBT characters.

Rachel Maddow

The political pundit who mixes a mean cocktail, Stanford and Oxford-educated Maddow wrote her PhD in HIV and healthcare reform in prisons and has been hosting her daily news show since 2008, making her the first openly gay or lesbian host of a prime-time news program in the US. 
Rachel Maddow
She’s wry and intellectual but not afraid to see the funny side of politics – which, when an Apprentice star is legitimately running for President, is probably a good thing. 

Eileen Myles

The poet and author is having a much-deserved renaissance following the reissue of her cult novel Chelsea Girls, earlier this year.
Eileen Myles
Working class and an outspoken feminist who has challenged sexism in the literary world, she’s intellectual without being inaccessible, a punk rock poet in the vein of Patti Smith. With 21 books to her name and hopefully more to come, there’s never been a better time to discover her.

Ruth Hunt

The Stonewall CEO made history after correcting a decade’s-long imbalance and extending Stonewall’s work to include campaigning for transgender issues.
Ruth Hunt
Ruth Hunt
Smart, unflappable and upfront about her Christian faith, she’s said that she finds it harder to come out as a Catholic than a lesbian.

Read the original article from The Telegraph here:

Poll: Americans Divided on Religious Liberty for Christians, Muslims

by Randy Hall
Originally Published: December 30th, 2015

People place a higher priority on preserving the religious freedom of Christians than for other faith groups, ranking Muslims as the least deserving of the protections, according to a new survey released on Wednesday. A skeptic might think the Associated Press did this poll less to explore the question of religious liberty than to make mischief about Muslims being less favored in America.
The poll, which was conducted by AP and the National Opinion Research Center in Chicago, showed that solid majorities said it was extremely or very important for the U.S. to uphold religious freedom in general.
However, the percentages varied dramatically when respondents were asked about specific faith traditions, according to an article written by Rachel Zoll and Emily Swanson.
In the poll, which was conducted Dec. 10 to 13, "82 percent said religious liberty protections were important for Christians, compared with 61 percent who said the same for Muslims,” Zoll and Swanson stated.
“About seven in 10 said preserving Jews' religious freedom was important, while 67 percent said so of Mormons,” they noted. “People who identified with no religion were ranked about even with Muslims in needing support to live out their beliefs.”
Charles Haynes, director of the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute, said the findings “reflect deep divisions among Americans about the very definition of religious liberty,” which “is now in the eye of the beholder.”
“The poll was conducted after Islamic extremist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., and during intensifying anti-Muslim rhetoric by Donald Trump and other candidates for the Republican presidential nomination,” the reporters asserted.
“The furor has led to a spike in vandalism of mosques and harassment of U.S. Muslims over the last month,” Zoll and Swanson stated before asserting:
In the survey, 88 percent of Republicans said it was important to protect the religious liberty of Christians, while only 60 percent said so for Muslims.
Democrats also ranked religious freedom for Muslims as a lower priority. Eighty-three percent of Democrats said the protections were important for Christians, while only 67 percent said so for Muslims.
"These numbers seem to be part of a growing climate of anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States," said Madihha Ahussain, an attorney for Muslim Advocates, a California-based civil rights group. "This climate of hatred has contributed to dozens of incidents of anti-Muslim violence in recent weeks.”
Helen Decker, a 65-year-old West Texas Christian who reads the Bible regularly, believes strongly that “religious freedom should be provided to people of all faiths or no faith,” including her grandson, who is an atheist.
"Muslims -- they need to be protected just like Christians unless they pose harm to human life," Decker noted.
However, John Ashford of Chicago -- who is retired from the U.S. military and the Postal Service -- said that “it's not right" to deny religious liberty protections to Muslims. He said officials have been showing too much deference to Christians for political reasons, in what he considers a threat to the separation of church and state.
"There's supposed to be equal protection under the law -- that's what the Constitution says," he noted. "If you're not doing that, you're doing something wrong."
“But advocates for broad exemptions, including U.S. Roman Catholic bishops and Southern Baptist leaders, say the requests are in line with the longstanding American tradition of protecting individual conscience,” Zoll and Swanson stated.
Meanwhie, Greg Scott of the Alliance Defending Freedom -- a Christian public interest law firm -- said a focus on protecting Christians right now "makes sense in that Christians today are facing mounting threats to their religious liberty by acts of state officials and bureaucrats."
“In the latest survey, eight in 10 Americans said it was very or extremely important for people like themselves to be allowed to practice their religion freely,” the reporters stated.
But Eric Rassbach, an attorney with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty -- a public interest law firm that takes clients of all faiths-- said: "People may not realize you cannot have a system where there's one rule for one group and another rule for a different group you don't like."
"No religion is an island," Rassbach added. "If somebody else's religion is being limited by the government, yours is liable to be limited in the same way. Even if you only care about your own particular group, you should care about other groups, too, because that's the way the law works."
The AP-NORC poll of 1,042 adults was conducted online and by phone using a sample drawn from NORC's probability-based AmeriSpeak panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.

Read the original article from Newsbusters here:

Year in Review: The Biggest Stories About Gender Inequality at Work

by Li Zhou
Originally Published: December 31st, 2015

Gender inequality in the workplace continued to be a subject of contention this past year. Companies from Netflix to Goldman Sachs sought to make their paid-leave programs more equitable. The gender wage gap was called out again and again, by workers as varied as Hollywood actresses and Google engineers. Government policies in the U.S. and abroad aimed to increase transparency around pay and require more women in company boardrooms. Gender discrimination was brought to the fore in a series of high-profile lawsuits. 
These examples make up just a fraction of the events that transpired. What follows is a look back at some important moments from the past year when men and women moved closer to workplace parity. 
Ellen Pao takes a break with her legal team. (Stephen Lam / Reuters)
In a $16 million lawsuit, Ellen Pao sued her former employer, the venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, for gender discrimination. She alleged that the company overlooked her for promotions on the basis of gender and later terminated her when she brought up the issue. While Pao lost her case in March, it ultimately drew greater scrutiny to the underrepresentation and experiences of women in tech and venture capital. She’s since written more about her careers in law and tech, including a commentary in the newsletter Lenny, in which she continues to call out sexism in Silicon Valley, but is optimistic about change. She writes: “Eventually, there comes a point where you can't just rally and explain away all the behavior as creepy exceptions or pin the blame on yourself … You see patterns, systemic problems, and it doesn't matter where you are or what industry you pursue.”
Patricia Arquette accepts the award for best actress in a supporting role, for Boyhood. (John Shearer / Invision / AP)
During her Oscars acceptance speech in February, the actress Patricia Arquette highlighted the need to close the wage gap in all industries and earned a standing ovation from several audience members, including Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez. “It's our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America,” she said. 
In this 2006 photo, Erica Baker works with Raiford Storey in Google’s New York Office. (Mark Lennihan / AP)
Erica Baker, a former engineer at Google (now at Slack), created a spreadsheetearlier this year that enabled people to fill out their salaries and share that information more broadly within the company. Nearly 5 percent of workers at Google have since completed the spreadsheet, according to Baker, although she noted that she was penalized for creating it: At Google, employees are able to give each other $150 bonuses as a nod to good work, but, Baker says, seven of the bonuses she received, all of which mentioned the spreadsheet, were denied by her manager.
Peggy Young, a former UPS worker whose health care ended when the company denied her request for special accommodations during her pregnancy, with her daughter (Jacquelyn Martin / AP)
When she was  pregnant, Peggy Young, a former driver at UPS, requested an adjustment to her workload, per her doctor’s recommendations. The company refused and put her on unpaid leave, citing her inability to lift the 70 pounds required of her in the job description, and she ultimately sued. In March, the Supreme Court decided in Young’s favor on the grounds that UPS, which makes special accommodations for others with specific health conditions, needed to make comparable ones for pregnant women that enable them to continue working. 
David Cameron arrives at Fort St. Angelo during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. (Andrew Winning / Reuters)
In July, British Prime Minister David Cameron established a rule requiring all companies with 250 or more employees to share information on the average pay that their male and female workers receive. His aim: to “cast sunlight on the discrepancies and create the pressure we need for change, driving women’s wages up.” In a 2014 World Economic Forum report, the U.K. ranked 48th out of 131 countries for gender pay equity, while the U.S. came in 65th.
Jim Young / Reuters
While the headlines covering the topic were lighthearted—a Washington Post piece in July was titled “Freezing women, oblivious men”—a study from Naturepublished this year found that the formula used to calculate standard office thermostat temperatures was biased, and based on the resting metabolic rate of a 40-year-old man who weighs 154 pounds. Women, who tend to have lower metabolic rates, may get warmer at a slower rate and thus find that offices, in one sense, are not built with them in mind.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a weekly cabinet meeting in Berlin. (Fabrizio Bensch / Reuters)
Today, 20 percent of Germany’s corporate boardroom seats belong to women, and in a move that will increase gender diversity, the country passed a law in March instituting boardroom quotas. The law requires that companies have at least 30 percent women in supervisory seats, and German Justice Minister Heiko Maas called it “the greatest contribution to gender equality since women got the vote.” Germany follows in the footsteps of Norway, Spain, France, Iceland, Italy, and Belgium, which all have similar legislation.
California state senator Hannah-Beth Jackson is congratulated by senator Marty Block after her wage-equality bill was approved. (Rich Pedroncelli / AP)
In October, California’s governor, Jerry Brown, signed into law the Fair Pay Act, which enables employees to freely ask their employers how their wages compare to others in comparable positions, including those at different physical locations of the same company. It’s been called one of the strongest laws in the nation to offer such protections, and goes into effect on January 1, 2016.
Robert Galbraith / Reuters
While many strategies have been recommended to address the wage gap within companies, Salesforce, the cloud-based software company, opted to vanquish it completely by reviewing its payroll and simply adjusting salaries so that all female employees made the same amount as the men in comparable roles. The decision, which was first made public in November, was implemented following the review of 17,000 employees’ salaries and cost the company $3 million. 
Reed Hastings, the founder and CEO of Netflix (Gonzalo Fuentes / Reuters)
This summer, Netflix became the first company to offer one year of paid family leave for new mothers and fathers. Other organizations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Facebook, and Spotify, quickly followed suit, enacting similarly generous policies.
Jonathan Ernst / Reuters
Although many large companies have announced more comprehensive paid-leave policies, many of these apply exclusively to a small subset of workers in high-paying white-collar jobs. In October, the Washington D.C. City Council proposed a law that would cover all workers and enable them to take 16 weeks of paid leave to care for a child or sick family member, regardless of where they work.
Jennifer Lawrence walks the red carpet at the U.K. premiere of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2. (Luke Macgregor / Reuters)
In October, Jennifer Lawrence wrote an impassioned op-ed in the newsletter Lenny about the lack of gender wage equality in Hollywood, citing the difference between her salary with that of male co-stars Bradley Cooper and Christian Bale for their roles in American Hustle. “When the Sony hack happened and I found out how much less I was being paid than the lucky people with dicks, I didn't get mad at Sony,” she wrote, “I got mad at myself. I failed as a negotiator because I gave up early … I'm over trying to find the ‘adorable’ way to state my opinion and still be likable!” Her piece has since ignited fierce discussion about wage gaps in Hollywood and beyond, with Bradley Cooper announcing that he will openly share his salary information, in an effort to promote pay transparency.
Canada's new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, poses with his cabinet after their swearing-in. (Chris Wattie / Reuters)
In November, Canada’s new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, appointed equal numbers of men and women to his 31-person cabinet, which he also sits on. His reason for prioritizing gender parity? “Because it's 2015.”

Read the original article from The Atlantic here:

Ask Your Boss for a More Flexible Work Schedule

by Marcelle Yeager
Originally Published: December 31st, 2015

If you're looking to improve work-life balance in the new year, there are loads of options. However, before you propose a flexible work arrangement, develop a clear picture in your mind of what you want and how you plan to sustain productivity and your usual high performance.
When you propose flex time to your employer, don't focus solely on yourself and your needs. Avoid using the words "I" and "me." Persuade your boss that the new plan is in his best interest and that you've fully considered how it will work for him. "We" is the term to use as you have these discussions. Employers won't care so much about why you want to do this. They want to know how you plan to maximize your time. The most important question to keep in mind as you develop your strategy is: How will it benefit the company?
Before you start planning your strategy, talk to any co-workers with a flexible work schedule and ask about the advantages and disadvantages of their schedules. Also find out how they obtained agreement from your mutual employer. 
• Focus on benefits to the company. There are different ways a flexible work arrangement may benefit the company, and you should make this clear in your pitch. Think about issues the company faces. Perhaps the organization has space constraints and this would help alleviate the problem. Or there are others who work part-time or from home with whom you could share a workspace.
If you are on conference calls early in the morning or late in the evening with colleagues in other locations, perhaps eliminating your long commute makes sense. You will have more time to prepare, and traffic or public transportation breakdowns won't make you late. 
You can offer to take on additional responsibility with the change in your work schedule. However, you must convince your manager that the role matches the schedule you propose. If you want to work from home, don't volunteer to be the social activity coordinator. Instead, volunteer to draft new business proposals.
• Present the work-from-home option. Before asking your employer for permission to work from home, decide what your ideal situation is. Is it working 40 hours from Monday to Thursday or working from home one or two days a week? Start big so you can end up with an agreement that best suits you. For example, if your ideal situation is working from home one day per week, suggest working from home two days per week. If your employer says,"No," then propose one day per week. In each case, explain how it benefits the company. If they deny your request to work from home, you could suggest working Monday to Friday one week and Monday to Thursday the next in a compressed work schedule.
It's likely that your company will not approve working from home full-time if your job requires you to be in the office for meetings and in-person interaction. And usually this benefit is reserved for long-term employees who are forced to relocate for family reasons. Your home office must be equipped to allow you to perform all of your job functions, and you must assure your boss that you will be available whenever necessary.
• Make a case for a part-time schedule. If you want to decrease your hours, you should have a feasible written proposal prepared to present to your boss. It should include your desired schedule and how you will fulfill your tasks without compromising work quality or creating more work for others. You should make them aware that you'll be available for important meetings, even if they fall outside of your regular hours. Keep in mind that part-time work often creeps more toward full-time hours.
If you are intent on changing your work schedule in the new year and your employer is disagreeable, perhaps it's time to look for a more flexible job. These days many companies are amenable to such arrangements because they have begun to realize that employees perform better when they are provided with flexibility. Cheers to restoring your work-life balance in the new year.

Read the original article from U.S. News here:

Diversity is now the defining conversation of the entertainment industry

by Kwame Opam and Emily Yoshida
Originally Published: December 31st, 2015

This year, in lieu of the traditional "Best Of" lists, we thought it would be fun to throw our editors into a draft together and have a conversation. The last few years we’ve been made more aware than ever of systematic discrimination, everywhere from our law enforcement to our boardrooms. Silicon Valley has grappled, with halting progress, to correct its deeply entrenched sexism. But Hollywood has always been painfully behind when it comes to reflecting the changing times — until this year. As platforms and channels diversified exponentially so did the people on screen and behind the cameras. Asian Americans created and starred in critically lauded sitcoms for the first time in over 20 years. The triumphant return of Star Wars starred a black man, a Hispanic man, and a white woman. And Caitlyn Jenner became the most high-profile transgender celebrity, in a year when trans issues received unprecedented attention on and offscreen.
Hollywood has long been making half-hearted gestures toward diversity through quotas and special achievement awards, but this year was when audiences started voting with their dollars and their clicks. And the message was clear: the future of entertainment won’t be VR blockbusters or 4K Laser Projected 3D IMAX with rumbling seats. It will be an on-screen America that reflects the real America, and a community of directors, writers, and producers with a huge array of backgrounds and points of view. We brought Emily Yoshida and Kwame Opam together to talk about the changing face of entertainment in 2015.
Kwame Opam: Earlier this year, The New York Times openly wondered whether or not the word "diversity" had lost all meaning. It obviously hasn't, even if it’s been over- or misused, but it's such a huge topic that affects so many people that there are certainly a thousand and one ways for people to get it right and wrong. There was a lot of progress made in the last year, and maybe just as many steps back. I tend to think of the Ellen Pao trial as proof of the tech industry, right alongside so many other industries, struggling to reckon with inclusivity but not really getting how to undo the damaging practices that got them in court. At the same time, at least they’re changing their hiring practices little by little. Sort of.
I don't think the call for diversity affected any other industry quite as visibly as entertainment. In television especially, networks and studios took perceived "risks" by airing shows created by and for people of different races, genders, and orientations, and it paid off commercially and critically. Empirebecame a ratings and cultural phenomenon in a league of its own. With Master of None, Aziz Ansari took the sadcom formula Louis C.K. pioneered and turned it into something so heartwarming and honest that it feels new, especially with how it portrays South Asian characters. And Transparent is probably the best show on TV. I never thought a cake floating in a pool could feel so transcendent.
These are conversation-defining shows. People care about them, and it's great that they're being green-lit. Anyone who was worried the Golden Age of TV would end with the Mad Men finale was basically wrong.
Emily Yoshida: I honestly don’t care about the Peak TV problem if it leads to Peak TV Diversity. There are no longer three or four golden shows that everyone watches; everyone’s finding their own corner of the TV universe that they like, and there’s something super liberating about that as a viewer, and I’d imagine as a creator also.
At the same time, we were still being constantly made aware of how much progress still needs to be made when it comes to determining whose voices get heard, especially in Hollywood. For me, the HBO show which elicited the frustrated screams week to week in 2015 was not Game of Thrones, but Project Greenlight, the revival of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck's indie film reality series. For the cult of viewers the show attracted after its headline-making premiere (TL;DR, Matt Damon doesn't think diversity behind the camera matters all that much) producer Effie Brown became a martyr of sorts — not because she was a saint, but because of the struggle she represented. As a woman of color in a managerial position, she ran up against every microaggression in the book, and the show was a brutal look at the pervasive, often subconscious sexism of the movie-making industry.
"Young guys in baseball caps who remind older guys in baseball caps of themselves" — that's how The New York Times' Maureen Dowd described the criteria by which the new auteurs of Hollywood are vetted and boosted, year after year. Her comprehensive, devastating feature for the paper's magazine had women from every corner of Hollywood — from Shonda Rhimes to Leslye Headland — telling different versions of the same sexist story. Since the dawn of the '70s blockbuster era, American filmmaking has been more about money than art, and when people start caring about money they get scared — in this case, scared of anything but the white male director prototype steering a studio-engineered franchise film.
Of course, sometimes that strategy backfires spectacularly — let's never forget the crash-and-burn of Josh Trank's Fantastic Four — another young director rushed to the big leagues off the success of a low-budget genre indie. The horror stories from the set and the disaster of a press tour are all a huge cautionary tale for any producer who thinks that a penis and a buzzy Sundance film are the only prerequisite to handling a $100M+ blockbuster. And yet, I'd bet you a large sum of money that Trank works again.
Kwame: Oh, Trank will almost certainly work again. Fantastic Four might have been irretrievably bad (I'm still amazed Fox felt the need to step in at the eleventh hour to make the movie worse) but one multimillion-dollar foul up isn't enough to stop Hollywood from throwing opportunities at relatively untested male talent. Just look at Colin Trevorrow's Jurassic World. Despite reducing the film’s character development to basically "Dude who loves dinosaurs teams up with frigid lady in high heels," people loved it. Box-office-wise, it's behind only Star Wars: The Force Awakens. And wouldn't you know it? Trevorrow's directing Star Wars: Episode IX now. And dude's made four movies to date? Awesome.
I do think the franchise strategy — something every studio is suddenly trying its hand at, what with the million cinematic universes cropping up — can be taken in interesting directions, though. Creed is a transparent attempt by Sony to keep the Rocky brand fresh for young audiences. But instead of hiring a young white director, they hired Ryan Coogler, a young black director. The result is a movie that actually corrects some of the franchise's past mistakes — mainly, the racially tinged framing of Apollo Creed as a rival-villain. Its critical acclaim has quickly turned into Oscar buzz, and alongside the runaway summer success of Straight Outta Compton, it validates everyone in Hollywood who had the radical notion that movies for non-white audiences can make serious bank.
But critical acclaim and the Oscar conversation are two totally different things. Hollywood is already slow when it comes to representation, but the award shows are so much slower. For instance, trans issues figured more prominently in the media than ever this year, with awareness reaching an all-time high after Caitlyn Jenner came out in Vanity Fair. At the same time, 2015 gave us two very different movies about trans women to talk about in her wake. Tangerine is a technically daring Sundance darlingthat stars actual trans women of color. The Danish Girl is, by most accounts, a decent prestige film starring a cisgender man. But of course, The Danish Girl is the obvious choice for Oscar contention.
Emily: I know you haven’t seen The Danish Girl yet, Kwame, so I’ll save you a couple hours: yes, Eddie Redmayne is great, but the film is a trendpiece, a book report — an unfortunate fate for Lili Elbe’s story. It suffers the same problem as another infamous Issue movie, Crash (which won the 2006 Best Picture Oscar) in that every single conversation in the film is about the Issue. This is a hallmark of a clinical, outside-in approach to a group of people, or a social theme ("What must trans people talk about all the time? Probably being trans!") and Tangerine's rejection of all that is what makes it so memorable, humanizing its characters far more than Tom Hooper's film.
And again, that all comes down to who's telling the story. Director Sean Baker penned the script for Tangerine with co-writer Chris Bergoch, but they worked closely with stars Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rogers, whom they met at an LGBTQ center blocks away from the filming location. "Being that I’m a cisgender white male from outside of that world, I knew that I couldn’t walk in there and impose any sort of script or a plot," Baker told Vogue. "It wouldn’t be the responsible way of doing this or the respectable way of doing this." Instead, he let Taylor and Rogers supply the real-life details and anecdotes that color the story — some funny, some tragic, all lived-in and human.
Tangerine was made for a fraction of the budget of The Danish Girl, and via far less traditional means. Its comparative success suggests that an approval stamp from Hollywood's establishment doesn't add automatic value, given that it’s often outside that establishment where much more diverse, interesting work springs up. For a long time now, we've defined "diversity" as increased inclusion in an established circle. But in an increasingly sprawling, non-centrifugal entertainment environment, it's more possible and powerful than ever to create your own circle.
Kwame: And it’s all the more satisfying to see traditional circles of influence break down. While the Ellen Pao trial illuminated how difficult it is to dismantle systemic sexism within the tech industry, the slow but all-too-necessary fall of Bill Cosby was important and powerful. We finally heeded the voices of dozens of women, and he's finally paying the price. That victory was followed swiftly by James Deen’s public downfall in the porn industry, as well as by an ongoing reassessment of R. Kelly amid numerous allegations that he sexually abuses underage girls.
We’re nowhere near done with these conversations, but I think overall we’re having more and better conversations that put us in good position going into 2016 to break down more walls.

Read the original article from The Verge here: