Category Archives: rights

2018 Reflections


2019-clock

In many ways 2018 was one of my best years – I was promoted, got a raise, started doing a job that I love, lost 92 pounds, improved my health to the point that I’ve been able to stop certain medications, and overall am happy with my position in life.

In some ways, though, 2018 was one of the worst years in recent history. In July, the world lost an amazing human being. My friend, my spiritual mentor, my colleague, my soul brother, Okey J. Napier, Jr. Although it has been five months since he passed to the Summerlands, I find it difficult to comprehend a life without him in it. The thought is still so surreal to me that I have kept a copy of his obituary in my e-mail, reminding myself everyday that yes, he is gone. For whatever reason, I feel that I have to do this because emotionally I’m not ready to accept it yet, but must keep myself grounded in the reality of his passing.

I take comfort in the fact that my faith has helped me through this unthinkable time. You see, I don’t believe that death is the end, but merely another path in the journey of existence. Okey still exists, just not in physical form, not on this plane, in this realm. But he’s still here, just not in the way I’m used to. I still talk to him, and I know that he can hear me. It saddens me deeply that I cannot reciprocate, that my earthly body is limited in this way. Not that I don’t believe that we can interact with spirits – I most certainly believe that…I sometimes pause to recognize something, knowing it’s a message from that realm. I wholeheartedly believe that he’s at peace and with his beloved Granny.

But I’m selfish. It’s not enough for me. At least not now. I miss our talks. We would often chat online or have Skype conversations to talk about everything from life to religion to our writing projects. I miss going to his place whenever I would visit Huntington. We would talk for hours over cups of coffee, often glowing over our nostalgia for the good old days when we were both students at Marshall University, ready to take on the world for the good fight in LGBT rights. He would make me laugh with his stories and humble me with his expressed respect for my knowledge and talent. These are memories that will forever live in my heart.

I recently went back to Huntington to visit family for the holidays. It was a good trip, but noticeably hollow in the fact that it was the first time since his memorial that I went to the area and didn’t spend time with him. For my own emotional well-being, I paid tribute to our connection by doing what we would normally do – I went to Starbucks at Pullman Square, had a big cup of coffee, and reflected on life, the issues of the day, and imagined what Okey would have to say about it all. As the tears ran down my face, I tried my hardest to smile as I thought about him. I’m not there yet. One day I will be able to express happiness for all that was. I guess right now, I’m still grieving.

Over the past few months, all I can think of is one of the last things that I said to him during my visit in June. We were discussing the Egyptian Goddess Bast, the cat Goddess of Joy. He had asked me my opinion on how things were going in life, and I told him that by Bast, to enjoy means to live IN joy – that’s what is meant for us.

In honor of him, I’m going to do my best to live up to that.

The Migrant Threat


In the interest of transparency, I must start this post off by stating that my husband is an immigrant. He came to the U.S. legally from India in 2007. To streamline the process, we retained an immigration lawyer to help us through this journey. Once my husband arrived in the U.S., he went through the proper channels to get work authorization, permanent residency, and finally, citizenship – and we paid all of the associated fees for each step of the process. At the end of everything, including the lawyer fees, we spent over $10,000. Because of the struggle and cost of the process, I am admittedly sympathetic to people who attempt to come to the U.S. to escape their homes. I say sympathetic because people who are seeking asylum and are trying to escape the horrors of their homelands do not typically have access to the resources that we did. Often, they cannot even afford to pay the processing fees to establish legal residency. Many times, the person seeks refugee status, which is the topic I would like to focus on for the rest of this post – refugees and the recent threat of the “migration caravan.”

In researching this post, I was surprised to learn that refugee and asylum admissions to the U.S. have actually decreased since the 1990s, with an increase in the last three years. Also, most asylum seekers do not come from south of the border. Most asylum seekers in 2016 (the most recent data) are from Africa and Asia. The Department of Homeland Security’s statistics show that the people who sought refugee status were from war-torn countries, some of which have been ravished by genocide, such as Myanmar and Syria. The data does suggest that there is a current increase in people seeking asylum from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Still, the largest group of asylum seekers were from China, irrespective of the 2016 trend of more seekers coming from Latin America.

This begs the question, what is going on in Central America that would prompt people to leave their homes and travel thousands of miles, sometimes by foot, to escape a perceived danger? According to the U.S. Department of State, there are travel advisories in each of the countries that are trending upward in asylum seekers. For El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras the warning is for violent crime and gang activity, with widespread reports of murder, assault, rape, and armed robbery – all of which are characterized as common. Who wouldn’t want to escape those conditions? But what about China, the largest “producer” of asylum seekers? The Chinese government is well-known for detaining people, interrogating them to the point of torture, restricting free movement within the country, and other humanitarian abuses. All and all, horrible living conditions in all these countries.

So, why aren’t we hearing more about closing our borders to prevent the influx of Chinese instead of the migrants of Latin America? Aren’t there criminals in both groups? Wouldn’t people from all these countries “take U.S. jobs?” The Sociologist in me first thought that this is really a classist issue in a way. How much does education a group has have to do with whether they are considered a threat? With this line of thought, I looked at the education rates of each country. Since 1964, China’s literacy rate has climbed from 66% to 96% while the number of high school and college graduates has skyrocketed. It’s not a far-fetched idea to think that asylum seekers from China would be highly educated and able to do highly skilled labor. In El Salvador, primary education is not completely free, so poor families are not able to complete what we consider basic education. Guatemala has the lowest literacy rate of Central America and education is only compulsory for six years. Similarly, in Honduras, children are only required to attend school until the age of 12. Basically, the migrants from these Latin American countries are seemingly poorer and less educated, meaning they would only be skilled to perform lower-paying jobs. As a point of fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that there will be employment growth of 0.7% annually through the year 2026, with the largest industry affected being healthcare. As we would rightly assume, healthcare professions generally require a more highly educated populace. More than half of the growing occupations require a post-secondary education. What his means is that those in the current migrant caravan from Central America would not immediately qualify for this economic boom.

One of the biggest fears we have heard associated with this migration is crime. To me this actually makes sense for someone to believe this. If poor people are struggling to get an income, they might resort to illicit means of providing for their livelihoods. Is this the reality, though? According to the 2017 Unified Crime Report, the most common offender was between 21 and 30 years of age, male, and white. In comparison, what does the typical Central American migrant look like? Well, they’re definitely not white and the majority are children – they do not fit the profile of a violent offender in the U.S. Well, what about being an offender in their homeland? As a part of the established process for registering refugees, each migrant is required to go through a background check and if anything comes back on this check, they will be rejected.

I think this last part is part of the issue – the fear that people are coming into the U.S. illegally and not going through the proper refugee/asylum process and will then be free from scrutiny to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting population. According to the Pew Research Center, illegal immigrants only comprise 3.3% of the U.S. population as of 2016 and have significantly declined since 2007. Sounds to me like we’ve got some immigration processes that are working, all without a wall.

What about the threat to West Virginia, specifically? Well, there’s not much of one. Most refugees are resettled in California, Texas, and New York. The immigrant population of West Virginia is less than 2% of the state’s total population, much of which comprises migrants from Germany. Also, nearly half the immigrants in West Virginia possess a college degree or higher.

Bottom line, in looking at the data, you are more likely to be a victim of crime from a young white NON-immigrant man than an illegal immigrant or someone seeking asylum to escape those same conditions.

For your reading pleasure, I got the data for this post from www.pewresearch.org, www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org, www.dhs.gov, www.fbi.gov, and www.bls.gov.

Agent of the State


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The media has saturated our lives with stories of a government official not issuing marriage licenses because of opposition to same sex relationships.

Now, normally I wouldn’t speak publicly about something which I find so malicious, ignorant, and unethical. As I’ve said on my Facebook page, I do not entertain a troll’s existence. I try to apply the same attitude to these types of situations – I do not want to contribute to providing a virulent person a broader public stage to espouse her/his vitriol. However, this lack of attention doesn’t mean that I’m not aware, that I’m not observing (and reading) all sides of an issue (yes, including even the most hateful of support).

I wanted to post on my blog because George Takei’s most recent op-ed on this issue impacted me on a quite unexpected level.  Surprisingly, I was reminded of my horrible boss at Amazon. As a former HR professional, I know that when a manager speaks in the performance of her/his job, what s/he says represents the company. If a manager says it, it’s as if the company is speaking. When my boss responded to my identifying myself as someone with a disability with “the business comes first,” she was walking a fine legal line. In the eyes of the law, because she was speaking in the performance of her job, she was speaking on behalf of Amazon. I say this was a fine legal line because she just made the statement – if she would have done something in support of this statement (behavior), she would have been breaking the law in the form of disability discrimination. I know all of this clearly because I sought counsel from a disability lawyer when these issues were happening. He interpreted the federal and state laws to me in great detail on this issue.

Now, how does this remind me of the marriage license situation? Agency. When my boss was speaking, she was speaking as an agent of the company. When this clerk speaks, within the role of her job, she is an agent of the government. In that capacity, what she says is what the government says. Privately, she can hold any belief she wants. Regardless, in the performance of her job she is representing the State. While “on duty” in the act of her government role, she not only expressed an opinion opposing the State’s stance (SCOTUS has already interpreted the marriage issue in relation to the Constitution), she also acted on those beliefs by not issuing marriage licenses (behavior = discrimination). THIS is how her actions were a breach of the Establishment clause of the First Amendment. Through her speech and actions in the performance of her government job, she (the State) was pronouncing a particular brand of Christianity as not only preferred, but State sanctioned (official approval of a religion).

For my degree, my minor studies were in Political Science. In discussing Constitutional Law, one statement has always stuck with me – “one person’s rights END where another person’s rights begin.” You’re Constitutional rights are not infinite; they do NOT extend to other people. You can believe whatever you want, but that doesn’t mean that you can act to impose those beliefs on others because THAT would be a violation of others’ rights.

It’s a balance – the trade off for enjoying freedom is respecting the same right in all, even when those whose beliefs are polar opposites. R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Find out what it means…to all of us.