Cover Story
With Title VII undecided, queer rights hang in the balance
When it comes to federal case law, LGBTQ+ people have a lot of rights. Statutory law — or the laws made by Congress — are where things get a little foggy. One of the responsibilities of federal courts is to interpret what Congress intended when they wrote a specific law. This should be fairly easy because all you’re doing is reading, right? Wrong. LGBTQ+ individuals fall into a gray category when it comes to whether they have protection under some of these laws, which has caused some trouble recently.
Obergefell v. Hodges was arguably one of the most important cases in the LGBTQ+ rights movement. It was one of the cases that gave LGBTQ+ couples and loved ones hope when it legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in 2015. A battle started far before with a freedom of speech case, One Inc v. Olesen, which in 1958 decided that writing celebrating gay relationships isn’t automatically obscene. There has been significant headway made in the last decades.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. On October 8, 2019, The Supreme Court heard three cases of LGBTQ+ discrimination, and will now have to determine if sexual orientation and gender identity fall within the walls of Title VII. These recent cases that have arrived within the grasp of The Supreme Court have brought up many questions that I have the hopes of answering in this interview.
I sat down with Michael J. Lambert, an attorney specializing in Media and First Amendment law at Prince Lobel to see how being part of the LGBTQ+ community contributes to his thoughts on these cases.
Before he answered the heavy questions, I needed to know something equally as important. Why should he answer these questions?
Nathan DeJesus: What is your background?
Michael Lambert: I studied journalism in Louisiana. And then I went to law school. And now I represent journalists for a living. So I don't necessarily work in the LGBTQ+ rights or civil rights area. But as a gay person, I follow these cases, and I'm a lawyer, so I have some [amount of] knowledge about it. And I do First Amendment work. So that's civil rights. In a way, it is civil rights.
Why will these cases be important justices-wise?
Justice Kennedy isn't there anymore. And he has historically written the opinions for the gay rights cases. Justice Gorsuch is big on textualism. And textualism is what I referred to before, in which when a court is asked to interpret a statute, you look to the text of the statute, and the text of the statute should be the prevailing interest. So if that theory holds and the justices interpret the Civil Rights Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act that way, I'm inclined to think that the court will rule that Title VII does cover LGBTQ+ individuals.
Do you think that whether they rule in favor of the employee or employer there is going to be a ripple effect?
Unfortunately, right now, LGBTQ+ Americans don't have protections under the Civil Rights Act in the employment setting. So if the court decided that that Title VII does not cover LGBTQ+ individuals, then they wouldn't have those rights that others do within the workforce. But I think it also would send a signal to the country that LGBTQ+ rights are not respected. And are not equal. So beyond just settling this particular case in which the question is, does Title VII of the Civil Rights Act cover LGBTQ+ individuals? It kind of sends a signal to the country that we're not treating LGBTQ+ rights the same as we are other civil rights. And I think that would be a shame. If the court rules that Title VII does cover LGBTQ+ individuals, it validates the identities of so many people, even though you shouldn't have to rely on nine people in Washington to validate your identity. And it would send a signal to employers that you can't discriminate. You can't discriminate against somebody because of the sex of the person that they love, or the gender that they identify with. It would certainly send that signal and it would give LGBTQ+ people remedies against employers if they were discriminated against, and because of, who they are.
At the end of the day, this is an interpretation of the statute. The Supreme Court’s ruling may have some pretty small or pretty big effects on how the U.S. will treat queer people in the future. Lambert seems optimistic that the ruling will be in favor of the employees. The results of the cases are set to be announced in June of 2020.
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Cultural Criticism
What am I supposed to look like?
Kamila Civilus
I’ve been “misraced,” or assumed to be an ethnicity I am not, a bunch of times. My thought process after being asked is, “why do they want to know?” It’s a weird and simple question. 
A lot of people go out of their way to ask, and I know it is curiosity that drives them, especially with strangers. But, I do get weirded out when that’s the first thing a stranger asks me when they are unsure or want to confirm their assumption. Then, they have the nerve to say, “Well you don’t look like it,” when I answer. I just smile, well, at least I force myself to. I also have many black friends, not mixed with anything, that are asked if they are mixed, and they roll their eyes when they tell me that they were asked. 
What do you say to that? My dad would sarcastically ask, “Well what am I supposed to look like?” He wants the person to genuinely consider that statement because it can potentially be offensive. I don’t want someone to tell me I don’t look like what I am. That’s why it’s easier to nod and say nothing. But, should I still do that? I want to let people know that hearing that is irritating and hurtful. I already stick out at family gatherings because I am the only mixed person in my dad’s family. I am not as dark as my cousins, but they don’t care, so why should a stranger?
“For me, my identity has caused a lot of arguments and pain in my life,” Andromeda Turre wrote in The Huffington Post. “So I might not want to answer ‘What are you?’ because I might be apprehensive as to how you, a total stranger, is going to judge me and possibly react to the choice of identity that took me years to accept and understand.” I was interested in her article just from the title, “PSA: ‘What are you?’ Is Not an Icebreaker” because it already felt like I could relate to her. People are either amazed or say “you don’t look like it.” So … what is the ethnicity I am mixed with supposed to look like? 
A few years ago, someone telling me that I don’t look Haitian, would bring me back to the place of insecurity I was in when I was younger, based on not feeling enough or not fulfilling the norm of being Haitian. I love both of my cultures — being Haitian and Mexican is awesome. People are surprised every time I tell them and the positive reactions uplift me every time.
Identity is one of the most important things someone can know about themselves. What do you think when someone asks you, “Who are you?” In reality, you would just say some basic facts. But really, who are you? It’s a question that trips people up. 
 You can identify yourself in many ways. Culture, nationality, personality, ethnicity, morals and much more. The whole assuming and asking what people are thing, has to stop. There are better ways to ask and approach the topic.
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School News
Not all heroes wear capes: how you can stop bullying
Do you know how to stop bullying? What to do or say? According to the website, bullying is defined as a kid (or group of kids) using their physical strength against another student or sharing embarrassing information to hurt that student. Usually, this happens repeatedly to the student who is being picked on. Bullying can also happen outside of school and online. Cyberbullying happens online and can take the form of sending embarrassing pictures of someone to other people or saying harmful or rude comments while chatting online. 
Bullying is bad for all kids involved, which is why the Boston Public School system works hard to make the safety and well-being of all students a top priority, according to its website. If you decide to be a bully, you should think twice about it because there are repercussions including detention, getting suspended from school and in some cases, being expelled or getting the police called. 
Why should you stop bullying?

In 2017, the National Center for Education Statistics found that nationwide, about 20% of students ages 12-18 experienced bullying. Having a conversation about bullying is important because it hurts people and makes them feel uncomfortable. For example, a student might not want to go to school because they may feel sad, embarrassed, angry, or even hungry in their lunch money is stolen.

What should you do if you see someone getting bullied?

(According to StopBulling.Gov and my personal advice)

- Tell a teacher or an adult if you are getting bullied, or if someone else is, that way they can get involved and stop the problem.
  • - Yell “STOP!” or scream loudly. People will hear you and might come to help.

  • - If they are hurting you physically, do not be afraid to fight back. You are only defending yourself. Would you rather be in the hospital or fight back and be safe at home?

  • - Run away so you can protect yourself from being hurt.

  • - Don’t do anything they say because it can affect you for getting in trouble or getting hurt. This can also affect you for getting the same consequences that bullies get.

What you shouldn’t do if you see someone getting bullied:
  • - According to Mission Manor Elementary in Tucson, Arizona  and Boston Public Schools

  • - Don’t become small, weak or make yourself look like you’re scared. This will make the bully feel like they have more control over you.

  • - Stand up to the bully. If you don’t, they feel they’re strong enough to still bully you.

  • - Don’t think it is your fault or keep it to yourself. Someone needs to know so they can fix the problem.

  • - Don’t think you are a tattle tale; it is the right thing to tell someone. You are only telling someone because you don’t want to get bullied.

  • - Don’t hurt yourself. Hurting yourself is bad for health and could turn into something big.

  • I hope students get advice from this as it will help you if you are being bullied or if someone you know is being bullied. I also hope parents and teachers find this helpful. I don't like bullying and try to do anything I can to stop it.  What other advice do you have? Share your ideas. Make a difference in your school. Don't be a bully yourself!
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Cultural Criticism
MBTA rides the inequity line
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority ranks among the best public transportation agencies in the United States, according to the Center for Neighborhood Technology. This might be surprising to many Bostonians and those living in the surrounding suburbs, considering the mass-disapproval (pun intended) of our state’s public transportation, ranking a mere two-and-a-half out of five, according to MassLive. However, beyond the constant repairs, the frequent delays and the occasional fire is another fault. The MBTA’s map is a curious image that reveals the sad truth about Boston: rampant segregation. 
During WriteBoston’s Summer Journalism Institute, I took the Orange Line to work, from Forest Hills to Chinatown. As a Hyde Park resident, this is the most effective means of travel. The Orange Line is full of people of different ages, races, genders, religions and socioeconomic standings. While it can have some rambunctious riders, it is still highly diversified. During the school year, I take the Commuter Rail’s Needham Line from my high school in West Roxbury to our newsroom near Downtown Crossing. The differences between these two commutes are so very clear. While the Orange Line can have a homeless African-American woman sitting next to a wealthy white man, the Needham Line Commuter Rail trains are mostly filled with the latter. 
Social segregation in Boston is not a secret but it is very much glossed over. While the MBTA is not inherently classist, the mapping of the MBTA paints a clear picture of the disparities among Greater Boston communities, and chief among them is transportation. There are a number of factors as to why Bostonian segregation manifests itself in the MBTA, and why it has quickly become a grave problem in need of immediate review. 
I sat down with Stuart Spina, who, at the age of 17, confronted the MBTA’s board of directors about bus reliability issues. Spina’s passion is the MBTA, and he delivered much-needed expertise into the specifics of the transportation authority’s problems.
Spina and I talked about gentrification, which is a process by which the demographics of a certain area are shifted. In Boston, signs of gentrification have appeared as new development agencies continue to build new and expensive homes and complexes in areas once considered low-income communities like Roxbury, Hyde Park, Jamaica Plain and Roslindale.
Spina said due to the worsening image of the MBTA, the T is actively looking for ways to upgrade its appeal. The brand new Orange and Red Line cars and upgrades to tracks are among these publicity stunts. Spina further addressed the sad reality of this situation. With gentrification pushing out lower-income residents from areas like Roxbury all the way out to Worcester and Lawrence, the traditional residents will not be able to enjoy the new cars that will run on the lines where they used to live. What’s more, they will not be able to use the MBTA to get to their jobs, family and lives that are still in Boston.
The MBTA’s incompatibility with lower-income populations is further linked to its scheduling. The biggest issue here is the T’s reduced service on weekends, especially Sundays. Spina explained that many people with hourly jobs have to do the less convenient tasks that require a very early rise or a very late dismissal. These obligations can include an employee who needs to get up early to open a morning café or a janitor who is out late after cleaning an office building. Spina asserted that the MBTA operates under a belief that most people work Monday to Friday, nine-to-five, and are home on the weekend. In reality, the MBTA does not cooperate with the many people who have to work early, even on a Sunday.
As I mentioned, the MBTA is not promoting segregation, however, they are not actively seeking social justice either. In the 1980s, there were plans to extend the Orange Line both ways. Instead of ending at Forest Hills, the Orange Line was set to go through Roslindale, Hyde Park and West Roxbury, and then end in Needham, a suburb of Boston. The northern extension was planned to extend from Oak Grove to reach Reading and Route 128. This endeavor for the MBTA would have made quite an impact on its wallet. After some deliberation, the MBTA showed signs of wavering, and resistance from locals pushed them over the edge. The T saved money in the end, so there was no need to oppose the exclusion of the more suburban neighborhoods.
Spina’s last point made an interesting distinction between neighborhoods that are majority homeowners versus majority tenants. The MBTA’s lines show this, specifically along Commuter Rail lines. The Commuter Rail services towns like Needham, while the subway services towns and neighborhoods like Roxbury. These two example towns have a home value difference of $500,000. Roxbury, showing lower home values, tends to house a rent-paying majority in its community. Given this layout, the Commuter Rail starts from major suburbs and single-family housing neighborhoods and runs into the city, stopping at major centers for white-collared work. For example, the Needham Line picks up homeowners from Needham and stops in the practically suburban West Roxbury. The train then stops at Forest Hills, Ruggles, Back Bay and South Station, major urban stops for transfers and centers for places of work that provide upper-incomes.
It is worth emphasizing that the MBTA’s recent efforts to self-improve are indeed coinciding with the rising gentrification in Boston. With lower-income residents being pushed out of the city, often to areas where the T is inaccessible, action should be taken to soften this inevitable blow to these affected communities. T accessibility has been, is, and will continue to be a necessity. Gentrification is moving faster than what the MBTA can react to. Many jobs will be lost and families will be devastated if action is not taken and these populations are not considered as changes are set in motion.
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School News
Kindergarten teacher Nesti is always in tune with her students
The students rushed toward her, hugged her and excitedly chirped about the new “Frozen” movie and what they had for dinner. Having been a teacher for two decades, Carol A. Nesti has grown immune to the irresistible chatter of small children and quickly made sure everyone was sitting around the perimeter of the rug, not putting up with any of her pupils’ attempts at going off on tangents. 
“I went to nursing school. I wasn't going to be a teacher. I never ever, ever really wanted to be a teacher,” Nesti recalled, as we sat in her colorful kindergarten classroom. However, an opportunity arose at the now-closed St. Mark Elementary where she worked as a school nurse. She substituted for a teacher who ran the junior high youth group while she was on maternity leave. “The next thing I knew, I was back in school, leaving nursing and going into teaching.”
Having transferred from St. Mark’s 11 years ago when it closed, she now resides in the Lower Mills Campus of Saint John Paul II Catholic Academy (SJPII), where she teaches the delightfully chaotic grade of K-1, the first year of kindergarten. 
Lower Mills is one of three campuses at Saint John Paul II, which prides itself on being “the largest accredited Catholic elementary school in New England.” One fallen member of the SJPII group is St. Mark’s, which was closed in 2010 due to economic issues and low enrollment. St. Mark’s carries significance to both Nesti and myself, especially since 13 years ago, she taught me as a kindergartener in the now foreclosed building. With the campus closed after she taught there for a decade, it’s easy to imagine how difficult the transition was to the Lower Mills Campus.
“We were devastated,” she said. “It was a little bit tough transitioning, but I have to say now that I'm here, [I’ve been] here 10 years now. It's like, it's where I'm supposed to be. If I couldn't be at St. Mark’s, this is where I'm supposed to be.”
Nesti feels that it’s gotten hard for kids to be kids in the last 20 years. But it’s not just children that have changed as the years went by. Parents also play a role. “A lot of the kids we have here are from single families, where mum's making $14 an hour and in order to be successful, she has to work double shifts four nights a week.”
It is often the kids that suffer from it. “There are 3-year-olds in here from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.,” Nesti explained. “And that's really unfair. So when that mom gets that child home, she's not gonna want to discipline, she just wants to be with her child. I can't blame her. But that comes with a cost.”
Nesti is very in tune with the situations of the families that become a part of the Lower Mills community, which helps elevate her skills as a teacher. By taking the time to not only get to know her students but their families as well, she is better able to understand her students. Rather than seeing a student as difficult and unmanageable, she sees them as a kid with a rough family life with different customs. 
It is this mindset that creates the most ideal teacher-student relationship that leads to success. A troubled student “is going to make it [in] my class and we're going to adapt to him,” she said.
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