The Children of Trans People

There’s a small community who are promoting what they call gender creative or gender expansive, that is looking at gender beyond male or female. They are mainly transgender people who have children and want more gender latitude for them than the one they have had. They are raising their children without reference to gender, even referring to them as they instead of him or her. They want to continue doing this until the children are old enough to choose for themselves what gender they are.  But the issue does not stop there. One set of parents needed a social security card and on the application form put dashes where the child’s gender would have been. The social security office could not accept that and arbitrarily assigned male as a gender.

I understand the discrimination against transgender people. I understand that we tend to deny their existence and deprive them of the identity that should be rightfully theirs. In this case, I wonder if they are going about it the best way? Statistically the chances of the children being transgender are low. Is their idea as well thought out as they would like it to be or as it ought to be? In that their endeavor can teach something to all of us who might want to create change. Meanwhile what about the children who grow up trying to figure out their sense of self separate from that of their parents when they are being brought up in such a manner? How will they fare in school when they interact with boys and girls? How will they react to movies and games, on play dates, instances where gender is part of what they will encounter? Will there be a psychological price for being brought up like this? We live in a world where new ethical dilemmas arise with increasing frequency. In this case, I keep asking myself wouldn’t the parents’ efforts be more worthwhile if they worked towards greater acceptance and understanding of transgender people? I surmise that in the end, they may not succeed in adding a gender, but may create more acceptance in the process. Still what about the children?

Hope on Death Row

A friend  began corresponding with a death row inmate in Alabama and shared the he belonged to an organization called Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty.  I was intrigued by the organization’s title and was not familiar with it, so I googled them. They are a group began in 1989 founded and run by death row inmates. They even publish Wings of Hope, which circulates among death row, the prison and links them also with the outside world.  Given the restrictions in any penal institution and particularly on death row, running an organization and publishing a bulletin is nothing short of impressive.

Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty is linked to the Equal Justice Initiative, a group led by activist Bryan Stevenson, and to the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty which inspires the creation of similar organizations in other states such as Texas, New Mexico, North Carolina.

These men, and women, on death row whom we think of as the worst of the worst,  whether or not one believes in the death penalty and I am strongly opposed, are fallible like all of us, but they are also capable of not only hope despite their seemingly hopeless circumstances but also of fighting to do something worthwhile. Their spirit soars beyond prison bars reminding us that they—as all of us—are certainly more that their worst deed.

Slave Labor and Supply Chains

The UN describes modern slavery as the condition of people whose work “is performed involuntarily and under the menace of penalty.”  Modern slaves can be forced to work through threats of violence, through withholding of identification, through threats to family members, and also through subtler means like financial pressure or limiting movements. All told according to a recent report by the Walk Free Initiative, in 2018 there were 40.3 million people living in these conditions, mainly women. When Mauritania abolished slavery in 1981, as the last stronghold it made slavery illegal throughout the world.  One problem is how difficult it is to track down the offenses. It is part of countries with shady human rights certainly, but it is everywhere, including the US. Of these 40 plus million there are at least 16 who are part of the supply chain, meaning the people who work on the things we buy. Even if slave conditions are outlawed within manufacturing, it is difficult to enforce, to make sure products are entirely made by slave free labor. The fashion and the tech industries are two of the worst culprits. With fashion for example, we want cheap clothes, and cheap clothes can only come with cheap labor.  Some businesses are onboard, yet because products can have many parts which come from many different countries it is often difficult to know if slave working conditions were involved. Another aspect of the tragedy is that so many of those who are forced to work and/or live under these conditions are not aware they are being exploited. There are no easy answers, but one hope lies in education: Educating people about their rights, and promoting human rights education among vulnerable populations such as those of migrant workers or those likely to be in underage marriages.

If and when we can, let’s contribute to that education.

Prisons in Norway

As a follow up to a recent post about abolishing prisons, this BBC News story on prisons in Norway makes an important point. Prisons there are beyond what many criminal justice reformers dare to hope for here. The setting is rustic, there are no barbed wires around and the guards who are called Prison Officer Assistants function like teachers, counselors, mentors. The whole idea behind the Norway prison system is that those who are in prison will one day be neighbors and so rehabilitation is opted over retribution, so that when they come out prisoners are better people than when they went in. Since in Norway the maximum sentence is 21 years all prisoners are eventually released. Each inmate has his own cell with TV, a bath and a view of the woods outside. They study trades, pursue degrees, take yoga classes, go into retreats when they need to. And what is striking especially when compared with US prisons is that there is no violence. Once in a while an inmate may act violently but the facility has none of the incidents of violence that are routinely expected in contemporary US prisons.  Each guard who has had at least 3 years of training, is assigned about 3 inmates, so the ratio is far different than  in the US and surely also makes a difference. After 2 years of this approach the recidivism rate in Norway has gone down to 20%.  Prior to that, it had been 60 to 70%. In the UK it’s about 50% and in the US it is 68% within 3 years and 76% within 5 years.

Of course this approach is expensive and that argument may be used by critics as a drawback. It costs the equivalent of about 98,000 British pounds per person. In the US the average is usually $30,000 but can be double that in some states. Economics tell us however, that there are social costs, and opportunity costs, and I suspect when all these are added together (not even factoring in the social good and humanity of the issue) the Norway type of prison may in the long run turn out to be cheaper.