A crowd of about 200 filled the Graduate Center of CUNY’s Proshansky Auditorium on August 25 for “Talking Back to the Backlash,” a pre-Republican National Convention forum discussing what was characterized as Pres. George W. Bush’s war on women.
The event was led by Laura Flanders, radio journalist and editor of the new Feminist Press anthology “The W Effect: Bush’s War on Women,” and featured panelists Sean Cahill, head of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Policy Institute; Jennifer Baumgardner, the former editor of Ms. Magazine; and Maria Raha, an author whose book, “Cinderella’s Big Score” explored women in rock music.
“You don’t have to go to Iraq to find Bush lying about his commitment to women, children, families or life,” Flanders told Gay City News. “We need go no further than to look at his passing laws that supposedly protect fetuses, but at the same time raising acceptable rates of mercury in the water. He says one thing for political purposes to get the vote, then he does quite the opposite. He promised to restore civility to the White House, but what in fact he restored is male supremacy Whether it’s the economy, health care or education, it is women who feel the brunt of Bush’s policies first. If the mainstream paid attention, we wouldn’t be [in this mess]. We knew that ‘W’ never stood for women.”
Cahill emphasized his view that the Bush administration’s anti-gay legislation hits low income, minority lesbians hardest.
“These are the people in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community who have the most to lose,” he said. “Twelve anti-gay issues are on the ballot, and nine threaten a super-[Defense of Marriage Act], to go beyond DOMA and ban health insurance, second parent adoptions—any right that married couples get. Women and mothers have the most to lose, especially low-income women, who lose concrete protections as well as peace of mind.”
Cahill said census data shows the burden falls disproportionately on black lesbian couples, who earn less than others and are less likely to own homes, but are more likely to be raising children.
“I do believe that the Bush administration and conservatives target and scapegoat low-income women as to blame for all of America’s problems,” Cahill said. “This is just part of the broader war on women.”
Panelists mentioned other Bush policies they saw as dangerous including gag rules on health care providers discussing abortion, abstinence-only sex education, the furor around so-called ‘partial-birth’ abortion, a lack of funding for HIV/AIDS, the war in Iraq, the United States’ refusal work with the international human rights community and the silencing of women’s voices.
Raha claimed that since the war in Iraq, trafficking in women and children has become commonplace, and added that the Bush administration was working to block international health organizations from offering abortion services to women there.
Single mother Maria Maldonado, from the Brooklyn group Families United for Racial and Economic Equality, for FUREE, spoke out against federal welfare policy she argued is forcing morality on women. She said she was told to marry her children’s father rather than apply for welfare, to which her 12-year-old disabled son said, “Mommy, if you have to marry my father, I would rather live in a dumpster.”
Cahill offered an overall assessment.
“The Bush administration opposes hate crimes laws, AIDS laws, gay adoption they assume everyone is straight, and if not, that they should be celibate,” he said. “It is the same as the Vatican’s policy.”
Perhaps most sobering were the comments of Charlotte Bunch, from the Center for Women’s Global Leadership, who said, “This isn’t just about the war or 9-11. The right used the war and 9-11 to escalate and advance their agenda. Don’t deceive ourselves that when we defeat Bush it is the end of the struggle.
Bunch noted that while the administration claims to fight fundamentalists in Iraq, U.S. policy supports them in India, Beijing, and the Vatican
“How can we act like national security is best served by these policies?” Bunch asked. “Whose security is defended? Not Maria’s, not gays’ and lesbians,’ not Islamics.’ Whatever happens on November 2, we have to decide, what is the next step?”