Last month I drove toward the notion of a right to health care by considering the European idea of a right to bear children. Now let's consider the right to health care in the context of the right to play.

Last week I listened to an NPR report (and read some related stories) that talked about the inclusive playground movement, an effort to make playgrounds more accessible to kids with disabilities. I learned that we now consider play a civil right:

...Last year, the federal government made access to play areas a civil right under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"Play areas are not just places where kids have fun," says Eve Hill, a civil rights lawyer with the Justice Department, which enforces the ADA. "They are places where kids learn to interact with the world, and with each other." That places playgrounds in the same category as other civil rights touchstones.

"Recreation was one of the places where the civil rights movement started, with desegregating pools and desegregating lunch counters and movie theaters. These were not unimportant," she says [Robert Benincasa, "For Kids with Special Needs, More Places to Play," NPR: All Things Considered, 2013.08.27].

Since the first Bush Administration, we have recognized as a nation that physical and mental impairments should not interfere with the rights of any citizen to "participate in the mainstream of American life—to enjoy employment opportunities, to purchase goods and services, and to participate in State and local government programs and services." It doesn't matter why a citizen is in a wheelchair—three year old with spina bifida, adult with brain damage from drinking and driving, we don't care. Every citizen has rights, and we will all pay extra to ensure that every citizen can exercise rights like using a public toilet, accessing a voting booth, and sliding down a slide with the other kids.

We don't let disability stop Americans from participating in normal community life. Don't we have a similar obligation with regards to health care costs? Whether people get sick or injured through genetics, bad behavior, or bad luck, they can be financially crippled by a single medical incident. As the number-one cause of bankruptcy in the United States, high health care costs can destroy a family's savings and credit rating, raising significant barriers to their ability to "participate in the mainstream of American life."

If children have a right to play, don't we have an obligation to ensure parents aren't so bankrupted by a medical mishap that they never have time to take their kids to play?

In anticipation of fallacious conservative hollerings about natural rights, let's read what President Franklin D. Roosevelt said about rights and economic security:

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our Nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. "Necessitous men are not free men." People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made [Franklin Delano Roosevelt, State of the Union address, 1944.01.11].

In positing a "Second Bill of Rights," Roosevelt was saying that rights don't mean much without the practical safeguards that allow us to enjoy them. FDR included in his Second Bill of Rights "The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health" and "The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment."

With a little work, one can read a right to play into FDR's subsidiary, practical rights. And we currently recognize that right. One doesn't have to work nearly as hard to see in FDR's thinking the right to health care that we still struggle to accept.

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Elizabeth Rosenthal as been burning up the pages of the New York Times with her series on the high cost of health care in the United States. I mentioned her July 1 article on the high cost of childbirth in the U.S. a couple weeks ago.

Rosenthal discussed health care costs on Fresh Air Wednesday. Her response to Terry Gross's question about the cost of childbirth in Europe included one fascinating and unfamiliar phrase:

...most European countries - I mean it's almost hard to even do an economic comparison because most countries feel that childbirth is a right, it's vital for perpetuating your citizenry and your country, and so there really shouldn't be a cost disincentive for having a child. So even though you could - you can come up with a cost for childbirth in other countries, patients almost always aren't actually paying it. It's the cost to the system. So the cost to the system - or the cost if you were coming from outside and for some reason were to have your baby in France or Great Britain, so anyway, the cost in other countries tends to be in the $5,000 range, often much lower - as opposed to, here, 20,000 [emphasis mine; Elisabeth Rosenthal, interviewed by Terry Gross, "'Paying Till it Hurts': Why American Health Care Is So Pricey," NPR: Fresh Air, 2013.08.07].

Childbirth is a right—I don't think we hear that phrase much in our discussions of women, reproduction, and health care in South Dakota or the U.S. We raise great legislation and fuss about the right to life. We pay rhetorical attention to the product of reproduction, but not so much to the reproducer. We seem more inclined to view childbirth as an obligation; when places like Texas and South Dakota restrict abortion to practical impossibility while rejecting plans to make health care affordable, we seem more bent on enforcing an obligation than in facilitating the exercise of a right.

Does our lingering puritanism about sex prevent us from understanding moral aspects of childbirth that Europeans get more easily? Do we South Dakotans believe women have a right to bear children? If we do, why do we allow the cost disincentives to childbirth that Rosenthal reports to persist?

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So I got a chance to speak with State Senator and Lawrence County Commissioner Bob Ewing at this morning's District 31 crackerbarrel at BHSU here in Spearfish this morning. He says he likes House Bill 1087, the school gunslinger bill. He says our schools are safe, we have great teachers, but some remote school districts really feel a need for the protection of lethal weapons in their school buildings. He thus wants to make every tool available to those few schools who feel a need for more security. As long it's done with total local control, says Senator Ewing, he's o.k. with it.

I posed Senator Ewing this philosophical question: Suppose a school district was asking for the authority to expel all openly gay students. Suppose that school district contended that unique local conditions, like strong religious views, meant that the presence of openly gay students in their school buildings caused serious classroom disruption. For the sake of maintaining a safe educational atmosphere for the most students possible, the school district decided that it needed to expel any student known to be homosexual. Would the Senator be o.k. with giving school districts total local control over expelling homosexual students.

After a long pause and a few tentative phrases, Senator Ewing said he'd "have to think about it."

Have to think about it.

That's what we teachers do: ask questions to get students thinking. But Senator Ewing, some answers don't require much thinking. The answer to my question is simple, found (among other places) in the South Dakota Constitution, Article 8, Section 1:

The stability of a republican form of government depending on the morality and intelligence of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature to establish and maintain a general and uniform system of public schools wherein tuition shall be without charge, and equally open to all; and to adopt all suitable means to secure to the people the advantages and opportunities of education.

Equally open to all. I don't see except in towns that hate fags there, Senator Ewing.

Local control be darned: expelling gay kids for being gay is not a "suitable means" for securing education for all. Neither is putting more firearms in our schools.

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Ten South Dakota Democrats had the sense and guts today to say that no, really, Roe v. Wade and a woman's right to govern her own body are the law of the land, not subject to the whims or rages of certain backwater states who prefer their women be chattel. Declaring our support for overturning Roe v. Wade, which 60 South Dakota House members did this afternoon, is a waste of legislative time and a slap at women's rights.

Among those sensible Democrats were my friend and District 8 Representative Scott Parsley and friend and District 9 Representative Paula Hawks. Well done, Scott and Paula!

To the seven Democratic Reps. who voted wrong on this resolution, I say, get with the program! You don't have to vote for foolishness like this to win re-election, not in a state that has rejected two major abortion bans in recent elections. South Dakota's electorate has acted in alignment with the most recent national polls, which show solid support for more abortion rights than South Dakota grants and even stronger support for leaving Roe v. Wade alone. With a Republican Party so beholden to group-nonthink (seriously, GOP Reps? Not one of you questions your party's anti-abortion extremism?), we need more Dems to raise the mainstream banner of reason and rights and not capitulate to the screaming fringe.

For those Dems cowering before the activists who co-opt "LIFE" as their all-caps code word (get real: we're all pro-life), permit me to stiffen your spines. Go ahead, grant that a fetus is life. Grant that life starts at conception. Then turn to the ayatollahs and say, "So what?"

Here’s the complicated reality in which we live: All life is not equal. That’s a difficult thing for liberals like me to talk about, lest we wind up looking like death-panel-loving, kill-your-grandma-and-your-precious-baby storm troopers. Yet a fetus can be a human life without having the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides. She’s the boss. Her life and what is right for her circumstances and her health should automatically trump the rights of the non-autonomous entity inside of her. Always [Mary Elizabeth Williams, "So What If Abortion Ends a Life?" Salon.com, 2013.01.23].

I will not presume to put words in the mouths of the ten Democrats who voted correctly today. But for those on both sides of the aisle who are afraid of being called baby-killers (you're not, and women having abortions are not, and the anti-abortion crusaders know it), consider the above argument, which jumps the high ground the crusaders think they occupy.

Related: Senator Stan Adelstein and Rep. Bernie Hunhoff propose some real pro-life legislation. Senate Bill 140 repeats the argument, made it seems in a number of past sessions, that we ought to expand Medicaid to pregnant women. What say you, supporters of HCR 2? Are you ready to quit posing and put our money where your mouth is to help women and children and the cause of LIFE?

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With Senate Bill 109, Senator Stan Adelstein (R-32/Rapid City) seeks to add "gender preference" to the list of discriminatory practices that local governments may investigate under SDCL 20-12-4. Since pastoral politicos Scott Craig (R-33/Rapid City) and Steve Hickey (R-9/Sioux Falls) are selling House Bill 1087, their school-gunslinger bill, as an affirmation of local control, they will surely get on board with this measure to allow local governments to better protect the human rights of their constituents.

Oh, wait, that's odd: when I check the sponsor lists, I don't see Craig or Hickey crossing over to sponsor SB 109. Of HB 1087's 29 sponsors, only two, Senator Adelstein's neighbors Senator Craig Tieszen (R-34/Rapid City) and Senator Mark Kirkeby (R-35/Rapid City), who have signed on to SB 109. Evidently putting kids in danger of more accidental firearms discharge as a fearful response to something that almost never happens in South Dakota is a higher priority for Craig, Hickey, and 25 other legislators than the discrimination that happens against homosexuals every day in our fair state.

The Robbinsdale Radical supports SB 109, but notes with curiosity that the bill also strikes the word "sex" from the amended statute and replaces it with "gender." If we need to make a distinction, "sex" refers to the all that biological stuff; "gender" refers to the social constructs we pile on top of sex. "Gender" used to refer strictly to grammar, the distinction between masculine and feminine (and, in Russian, neuter!) nouns and adjectives. In the 1960s, feminists started to appropriate "gender" to make the point that a lot of what we associate with sex is determined socially, not biologically.

I won't get too deep into the weeds here (but who knows what will happen in the comment section!). I will note, though, that if we replace "sex" with "gender" in this statute, we may technically open the door for a woman to discriminate against a man by making lewd comments about the bulge in his blue jeans. "My client was making no reference to his socially constructed gender identity," a statute parsing lawyer could argue. "My client was simply noting with approval the size of his sex, his physical package."

Mr. Price's concerns are less graphic and more (1) legal and (2) anti-puritanical:

...I do not understand why you did not use the legally standard terms "sexual orientation" and "sexual preference", instead of the vague terms "gender" and "gender preference". I believe these terms weaken the law and in my opinion would make it difficult to align South Dakota law with Federal law and local laws that already exist in South Dakota (for example, in the City of Brookings).

Are we so repressed in the state of South Dakota that we no longer can call sex sex? [Curtis Price, "In Which I Ask Sen. Adelstein: Why No Sex?" Robbinsdale Radical, 2013.01.18]

South Dakota statutes are already peppered with references to both "sex" and "gender". A quick text search finds "sex" appearing much more frequently than "gender". Consider: we prosecute sex offenders, not gender offenders. (Actually, I'm prosecuting gender offenders on my semester exams, when students write le musique instead of la musique.) Specific to SB 109, our statutory chapter on human rights, from which the chapter on county and municipal protections of human rights takes its definitions, defines unfair and discriminatory practices in terms of "sex", not "gender".

I look forward to hearing the Senate Local Government erupt in feminist critique of language. I also look forward to our legislators overcoming that debate and passing Senate Bill 109.

Comments Off on Senate Bill 109 Lets Locals Tackle Anti-LGBT Bias, Relieves Burden of Saying “Sex”

South Dakota's senior senator, Tim Johnson, has a significant disability. Johnson has difficulty speaking and gets around in a motorized chair. Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act, he enjoys equal access to public accommodations and protections against job discrimination.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities calls on all nations to treat citizens with disabilities as fairly and respectfully as we treat Senator Johnson under the ADA.

So is that why Senator John Thune and 37 other Republicans voted against it yesterday?

"[D]iscrimination against any person on the basis of disability is a violation of the inherent dignity and worth of the human person," reads the treaty. Does Senator Thune really disagree with that statement? Has Senator Thune become a liberal relativist who thinks that holding the world to our standards of human rights is cultural imperialism?

Maybe Senator Thune was listening to the noise from Rick Santorum and homeschool activists who think the U.N. would use this treaty to force their kids into public school. Maybe he read Article 31 on data collection and thought he needed to play Fox Mulder against shadowy global conspirators.

Or maybe he was just being a jerk, flipping the bird at disabled veteran and former Senator Bob Dole, who rolled to the Senate in his wheelchair to remind his colleagues of the importance of this bill, and voting against human rights protections that even noted human rights abusers Russia, China, Iran, Cuba, Syria, and Saudi Arabia could not say no to.

America should lead the world in the protection of human rights. Senator Thune apparently wants to lead the world in hysteria and discrimination.

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Dog bites man: South Dakota isn't a nice place to be gay.

The Human Rights Campaign has issued a new report calculating a "municipal equality index" for 137 cities across the U.S. The group didn't include Sioux Falls or Rapid City, but they did include Pierre along with all of the state capitals. The result: Pierre is the ninth least friendly place for gays, lesbians, and other sexual non-traditionalists.

Our capital scored a 13 out of 100. Pierre bombs because of the complete absence of state and local non-discrimination laws, relationship recognition, municipal employment protections, and pro-equality leadership. Pierre's only points come from its school district's anti-bullying policy and local law enforcement's reporting of hate crimes (though interestingly, the four hate crimes reported by Pierre in 2010 did not target individuals for their sexuality).

Likely dragging Pierre's score down even further: South Dakota's unwillingness to pronounce its capital's French name correctly.

Governing maps the data; HRC offers the full report and individual city scorecards in PDF.

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Ed Randazzo injects some predictable anti-labor propaganda into this Labor Day:

Today we celebrate the American worker — not the union bosses who compel workers to pay them tribute as a condition of employment.

It's vital we counter the Big Labor propaganda machine that uses Labor Day as an excuse to demand even more power over workers [Ed Randazzo*, "Celebrate the American Worker Today," The Right Side, September 3, 2012].

I star the author citation, because Randazzo plagiarizes this text from various rightwing mouthpiece blogs:

Labor Day is a celebration of the American worker — not the union bosses who compel workers to pay them tribute as a condition of employment.

...It's vital we counter the Big Labor propaganda machine that uses Labor Day as an excuse to demand even more power over workers [Mark Mix, "National Right to Work—Our Labor Day Message," a12iggymom's blog, September 3, 2012].

No citation from Ed to signal he's filching text, no links to the original source... too bad Ed can't labor to write something original on Labor Day. It's almost as if the Koch brothers were paying people to rebroadcast this stuff....

Ed's as dishonest about his authorship as he is about his praise for labor. He offers empty praise for workers while belittling the struggle workers must wage to win their due compensation. Labor organizations (yes, unions) started Labor Day to celebrate that struggle and the social and economic gains workers have made.

Yes, fundamentally, we celebrate labor as the indispensable force of the economy. If workers didn't show up each day and bust their backs, all the hot air from Mitt Romney's "job creators" and wealth-worshippers would mean nothing.

But labor unions and Labor Day exist because busting their backs wasn't enough for workers to win the fair compensation they deserve for building the economy. With all the wealth and power in their hands, the owners and bosses worked men, women, and children to death. They squeezed workers for all the effort they could get, paid them pennies, and discarded them like broken machinery. Only when workers organized, when they formed unions, could workers counter that power, protect themselves from abuse, and win basic worker rights that we take for granted now, rights like an eight-hour workday and overtime pay, pensions, workplace safety, and leave to take care of the people they are working for—no, not the bosses, but their families and loved ones.

In the happy world of big-money-excusers like Ed Randazzo, workers shut up, do what they're told, and just be thankful they have a job (yikes: sounds like South Dakota!). Those corporate flacks want to make Labor Day impotent, a vague paean to hard work disguising the Koch-Romney-corporatist efforts to undermine worker's rights.

But workers don't get what they deserve just by working. They have to fight for their rights. That fight—its past successes and its imperative present battles—is what labor unions and Labor Day are about.

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