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Columbia PhD Student Alberto Leguina, pictured above, was fired because, he claims, he rejected the advances of his supervisor. Leguina, 25, came to Columbia from Chile in the spring to work under Dr. Qais Al-Awqati, a professor of medicine, nephrology and hypertension at Columbia’s Medical Center, but by the summer was forced out of the university and has now filed a lawsuit against Columbia.

Leguina says he received a message on Grindr from someone claiming to be Al-Awqati, which he initially assumed was a prank. When Leguina ignored the message, he received subsequent messages, this time more threatening. After Leguina rebuffed the messages, Al-Awqati stormed out from the next room and yelled at Leguina, “You’re out!”

Leguina sought the help of the human resources department, where he was then told to “deal with this matter as a big man.” Leguina was also threatened to be sent back to Chile if he hired a lawyer or sought help from the authorities in his native country.

It was not until a few months later when Leguina was in fact fired. After he spoke with the HR department, Al-Aqwati apologized for his advances and gifted him a new MacBook. Leguina claims his workplace conditions severely changed at this time. His supervisors began to shun him and when he again sought help from HR, was told he was simply overwhelmed by the big city. Leguina then in June received an email from his supervisors in Chile stating that due to poor feedback from Al-Aqwati, he would need to leave his position at Columbia.

Leguina’s story is exemplary of the power dynamics that can easily be taken advantage in a place such as a prestigious university, one that in this case was particularly exploited because of his status as a foreigner. In a graduate studies environment where students work very closely with professors and need the help of supervisors in order to succeed, as shown by Leguina’s story, students need a system in place to seek help should their supervisor’s abuse their power. Because Leguina is male, he was also expected to deal with sexual harassment through silence rather than speaking out and seeking help. According to Queerty, Leguina is now interested in pursuing workplace activism:

“You cannot let these [things] happen anymore. I know I’m not the first person, but I hope I can be the last.”

Ph.D. student alleges he was sexually harassed, unfairly fired [Columbia Spectator]

Grad Student Says He Was Fired By Pervy Prof Who Hit On Him On Grindr [Queerty]

As reported by the Huffington Post, Argentina has advanced rights for freedom of gender identity in significant ways. Yesterday, the senate approved a gender rights law which mandates that private and public health care cover a sex-change surgery or hormone therapy, and will also allow people to specify how their gender is listed in the civil survey, regardless of physical characteristics. The senate unanimously passed the law; President Cristina Fernandez is in support of the law and will likely sign it. As Sen. Miguel Pichetto said during the debate, “This is truly a human right: the right to happiness.” Sen. Osvaldo Lopez, the only openly gay national lawmaker in Argentina, said, “This law is going to enable many of us to have light, to come out of the darkness, to appear.”

According to Katrina Karkazis, author of “Fixing Sex,” this type of law is “unheard of” because it does not ask people to change their body in order to change their gender. Sex change procedures can be painful and irreversible and this law allows people to legally assume their preferred gender identity without such drastic measures. If they do choose to proceed with either surgery or hormone therapy, however, both options will fall under their “Obligatory Medical Plan,” which means neither private nor public health care providers can charge extra for them.

Two years ago Argentina became the first country in Latin America to legalize gay marriage. Its policymakers see this law as a natural progression to ensuring basic rights for all its citizens. According to Argentine paper Los Andes, this law will further the rights and increase the visibility of trans people in Argentina, many of whom work in prostitution and do not have secondary education. By instituting a that law will allow people autonomy over their own bodies and identities without the approval of doctors or judges, Argentina is setting itself at the forefront of gender rights.

Argentina Approves Transgender Rights Legislation, Makes Sex-Change Surgery A Legal Right [Huffington Post]

El Senado aprobó por unanimidad la Ley la Identidad de Género [Los Andes]

Since 2010 Sweden has been able to call itself the most gender-equal country in the world, but some are lobbying for another step forward. According to Slate Swedish activists are now pushing for not just gender-equality, but gender-neutrality.

To achieve neutrality, gender-neutral advocates are lobbying for new policies, such as the recognition of all names as unisex, but the country has already taken some steps towards gender-neutrality. Some Swedish preschools do not allow teachers to address children by gendered categories such as “boys and girls” but rather by their names or gender-neutral terms like “buddies.” The image from the toy catalog above also presents its toys as unisex by swapping the traditional gender roles. The gender-neutral pronoun hen has recently been added to the country’s National Encyclopedia.

Not all have welcomed these changes though. Swedish columnist Elise Claeson has said that the move towards gender-neutrality would confuse children while their bodies are developing, and Swedish author Jan Guillou “referred to proponents of hen as ‘feminist activists who want to destroy our language.'” Some also find the Swedish school system’s restrictions on gender-coded behavior, such as banning traditionally boyish toy cars from schools, to be too extreme. Slate also criticizes the regulated language of schools to be simply replacing one set of rules with another equally restrictive set.

The comment section of the Slate article also shows a good deal of backlash. One commenter thought the move toward gender-neutrality when interacting with children “would create confusion which could very well lead to cross dressing, bisexuality and/or homosexuality.” Another commenter labeled Sweden a “a sick society” for proposing these changes.

It’s interesting that some of the detractors equate non-gender conforming behaviors, such as cross-dressing, with confusion. These reactions suggest that gender-normative behaviors are so entrenched in our thinking as “natural” or “normal” that acting outside of them is instantly perceived as wrong. A Finnish woman commented on this article to say that Finland already has a similar gender-neutral pronoun, hän. She now lives in the US and says, “As a Finnish woman I struggle with people’s opionion of me here in the states” due to some of the gendered stereotypes she has encountered.

The subtitle of the article, “A country tries to banish gender” seems misleading to me. The image above certainly shows an awareness of gendered objects and behaviors, and does not try to hide them, but instead presents them outside their traditional confines. The proposal of a neutral pronoun does not mean people cannot still use gendered forms of identification, but simply provides a way to identify people without assuming their gender. By offering children alternatives to the traditional gender roles, it allows them to make a more informed decision on which toys or activities best suit them, rather than determining these choices for them based simply on their sex at birth.

The effects of these new policies remains to be seen. Do you find them too restrictive or too radical? Or is Sweden providing a progressive model towards achieving widespread equality?

Sweden’s New Gender-Neutral Pronoun: Hen [Slate]

 

The New York Times reports that all Republicans in the Senate Judiciary Committee  have voted against a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. The law was first instated in 1994 to provide federal funding to fight domestic violence and sexual assault. It has since expanded to protect victims of other forms of assault and violence, such as stalking and dating violence, through reauthorizations in 2000 and 2005. The new draft up for reauthorization was in fact introduced to the committee in part by Republican Senator Michael Crapo of Idaho, yet his fellow party members on the Senate Judiciary Committee have unanimously voted against the new draft. As the Times reports, they take issue with the bill’s language in aid of minority groups:

The Republican opposition seems driven largely by an antigay, anti-immigrant agenda. The main sticking points seemed to be language in the bill to ensure that victims are not denied services because they are gay or transgender and a provision that would modestly expand the availability of special visas for undocumented immigrants who are victims of domestic violence — a necessary step to encourage those victims to come forward.

The bill passed the committee nonetheless, but now needs to pass through the Senate.  Fighting violence, of any kind, should not be a political issue. It is clear from this committee’s actions however that it is still subject to political biases, evidently in this case due to attempts to aid LGBTQ or immigrant victims.

Here is a full PDF of the proposed law: To reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act of 1994

Republicans Retreat on Domestic Violence [NY Times]

If you’re anywhere on the internet you have probably come across some spin-off of the “Shit Girls Say” video. While most of the videos are based in humor, a recent addition to the meme in “Shit Everyone Says to Rape Victims” takes a far more serious approach. The video, posted above, tackles many of the common myths of sexual assault, such as that rape always involves force and that men cannot be victims of rape. The video appropriates a medium originally based in satire with which to convey its message, and though this particular video is unlikely to go viral the way some other off-shoots of the meme have, its method may allow its message to reach a larger audience than it would otherwise encounter.

The Crunk Feminist Collective has a great post on the “Shit [People] Say Meme”: When the Shit Hits the Fan: On the “Shit [People] Say” Meme  and why it matters. As the post describes and is perhaps evident in the rape victims video, the structure of “Shit X Say to Y” allows an under-privileged group to talk back to many of the stereotypes espoused by a more privileged group. The post links to other videos, particularly those inspired by the “Shit White Girls Say to Black Girls” video, including “Stuff Cis People Say To Trans People”, embedded below.

Model Lea T. is on the cover of Brazilian Elle‘s December 2011 issue:

Lea T. has been on magazine covers before, in ad campaigns, and on runways. Significant about this particular cover, however, is that it is a mainstream, very commercial magazine.

Lea T. is an openly transsexual model who’s served as the muse for designer Riccardo Tisci of Givenchy and appeared on Oprah to talk about her struggles with reassigning her gender. Appearing on the cover of a publication like Elle is a huge step for the model is it affirms her ability to sell a magazine, and her image will reach a much larger audience than her appearance on the indie fashion publication, Love in their “Androgyny Issue” (pictured below with Kate Moss)

The Daily Mail writes about Lea T.’s success in relation to her December Elle cover. They also link to an interesting Vogue UK article, which conflates Lea T.’s transgender identity with that of fellow model, Andrej Pejic. Pejic is a male model who often models women’s clothes; he’s walked for Jean Paul Gaultier and here he is in a recent fashion editorial for Número with female model Ginta Lapina:

Pejic is frequently styled to emphasize his traditionally feminine features (high cheekbones, tiny waist, smaller jaw etc.) and is perhaps so convincing as a female that when featured topless on the cover of Dossier, some newsstands actually censored the cover, because of course women’s bare chests are somehow more obscene than men’s (and why that is could be a whole other post). Pejic, who is open to either “she” or “he” as a pronoun, does not identify as trans, despite the Vogue UK article comparing him to Lea T.

“There are similarities between myself and Lea T, and we’re placed in the same category, but our look is very different,” he said. “Lea has been extremely brave in being very honest about her journey – but I don’t really see myself as being here to challenge transgender stereotypes. I’m just myself.”

The article goes on to present gender as a current “trend” in fashion, as though it were a new hemline or it bag. Both Andrej Pejic and Lea T. have proven very well spoken on the role of gender identity in their respective lives, but is their visibility in fashion a flash in the pan? Will they disappear as soon as their novelty wears off? Or are they helping to broaden the kind of gender displays seen in the media? I suppose it remains to be seen.

Crossing over: Transsexual model Lea T. lands first commercial magazine cover [The Daily Mail]

Pejic’s Models [Vogue UK]

Andrej Vs Lea T [Vogue UK]

The Prettiest Boy in the World [New York]

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