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Staff Editorials

Transgender case in Ga. prison pushes state burden too far

    As though keeping thousands of prisoners from killing one another isn’t enough, Georgia prison officials must become more sensitive to people who have gender identification issues.
    For readers not familiar with this story, Georgia has a prisoner from Rome who was born a man. Prison officials took a look at him at the intake center in 2012 and felt confident enough he was still a guy to lock him up with the other guys for some relatively minor (burglarly) crimes. At that time, however, Ashley Diamond said he was a she and needed female appropriate clothes and hormones to maintain feminine looks.
    Diamond has gender dysphoria, which in clinical explanations means there is severe discontent with the person’s assigned gender at birth. Thus she felt she ought to be locked up with the women and addressed as Miss or her.
    In country editorial terms it means you were born a dude but feel like you ought to be a chick. In pre-modern times, should a condition like this befall you, you kept your mouth shut or moved to San Francisco.
    But, in the case of Diamond, you bring suit and, more amazingly, the federal Department of Justice takes your side, acknowledging that gender dysphoria is a condition requiring treatment like any other condition.
    [Sidenote: In Ms. Diamond’s case, her suit against Georgia Department of Corrections (DOC) stated that she had suffered seven rapes or assaults. That is not acceptable and should be fully investigated and this inmate protected.  In their response, the Ga. DOC denied the assaults had happened and noted they offered Diamond protective custody, which she didn’t accept, according to a New York Times article.]
    The psychologists referenced in the brief filed by the Civil Rights division of the U.S. Attorneys said untreated or mistreated sufferers of Gender dyshphoria are likely to commit suicide, self castration, self mutilation and other lesser mental issues.   
    Diamond’s complaint says she has attempted both suicide and self castration while in Georgia prisons.
    It is distressing to see the courts give into this type of treat me a certain way or I will hurt myself argument. Diamond’s case cited the 8th Amendment, cruel and unusual punishment by denying her special treatment. Suppose someone said wearing pants causes me great discontent as that conflicts with my assigned nudity when I was born. Or my sobriety causes me great discontent as opposed to my intoxicated self.
    For the Ga. DOC, their record of keeping prisoners safe is not great. And common sense dictates that trouble will follow when you have someone femine and claiming to be woman locked up in men’s prison.  But, what is a warden to do? You can’t start sending males to female cellblocks.
    Does the state now need a third category when assigning prisoners? Male, Female and Other? And if the state makes an exception here, what about other places where segregation occurs by gender? Will school bathrooms or college dorms have to follow suit?
    In  Diamond’s suit, aside from the attacks (we repeat: which should be taken seriously) she said it was harming her mentally to be subjected to male grooming, male pronouns and dress. She was also distressed that she was no longer able to take hormone injections that she has taken for 17 years to maintain her appearance and the withdrawal could be causing health issues, though one of those cited was the return of facial hair -- hardly a tragedy.
    Ga. DOC, following the Department of Justice’s expressed position, has allowed Diamond to get hormone shots while in prison. Ga. DOC normally has a “freeze frame” policy where they allow anyone taking hormones for  gender confusion issues to continue while in prison. They just can’t start a new program. In Diamond’s case they weren’t following their own protocol.
    All humans need to be treated with respect, but cases like this stretch the bounds too far. They place too much burden on the state. The state’s duty is to keep prisoners safe and rehabilitate where possible, not cater to whims of personality.
    As a closing thought: how would Andy and Barney have handled this in the Mayberry jail?

California water woes, a cautionary tale for Ga.

    From the Gold Rush to Silicon Valley, California has had more than its fair share of development luck. They also have Hollywood, not to mention a major chunk of American agriculture. The economy of that one state dwarfs most nations.
    So it was troubling to see the governor declare last week they had a serious water shortage, which is a colossal problem when you are the most populous state in the nation at 38,800,000. As a comparison, Texas is a distant second at 26,956,958.
    Governor Jerry Brown has ordered California’s 400 water agencies to cut usage by 25 percent in one year. This will affect 90 percent of the people in the state. The cuts are expected to be directed mostly at businesses and governments.
    Californians have been forced to act because of a drastic four-year drought. It has gone long enough and been so severe that state officials say they can no longer look at it as a fluke or cycle; drought must be considered the norm for the foreseeable future.
    In other words the original plan of let’s-just-wait-until-it-rains has been scraped.
    While it seems we’ve been getting no shortage of rain in our own Peach State (population a little over 10 million, 8th most populous state) a decent portion of Georgia actually ranked as “dry” by the USDA in March 2015. According to the USDA scale, dry comes before drought.
    While California’s plight may not seem applicable to current Georgia, you don’t need a very long memory to recall the recent parched period in our own history from 1998 to 2003. 
    Well-known landscape expert Walter Reeves, the Georgia Gardener as he is called, has an excellent drought history on his website The site notes that this was one of several “drought of the century” spells we have seen going back many decades.   
    The website also contains the following breakdown, “In the 21 years since 1986, Georgia had the following precipitation levels: Normal - 6 years; Above-Average - 3 years; Drought - 8 years; Severe Drought - 4 years.
    What has happened here when rain wouldn’t fall? We poked around with some conservation measures like odd/even lawn watering restrictions and basically waited until it started raining.
    In fact, the Reeves website noted that during the driest years, water consumption actually increased across the Southeast. No surprise really as the last drought hit at the same time development was in full advance.
    State officials did express concern that there may not be enough water for the Atlanta metro area to keep growing, but they failed to take any substantive actions. No new reservoirs were built and conservation measures were generally labeled as wacko environmentalist agenda.
    California did no better to prepare. An earlier request for voluntarily cuts of water use by 20 percent had little effect.
    Now, when the barrel is getting low, the problem can’t be ignored on the other coast, and rather than gradual changes California is forced to find solutions this year.
    California should serve as a canary in the coal mine for what our failure to plan ahead may cost us one day. This is not the kooky people the west coast state is also famous for with some green agenda raising a false alarm.
    It’s the business leaders, the civic officials who are telling people to brace themselves. “The idea of your nice little green lawn getting watered every day, those days are past,” said Governor Brown in the New York Times coverage.
    California officials say first in their crosshairs are heavy water users like golf courses in the desert and car washes.
    It will be interesting to see how things turn out on the other coast and we sure hope key people in Atlanta and in city halls everywhere are taking note.

Big school decisions require hefty research

    From decades of covering local schools, we recognize that education politics is all personal. It’s about your child’s teacher, classroom, textbooks, lunchroom choices, how much your kid’s teacher is being paid. We’ve never seen the overwhelming enthusiasm for those big picture but vague issues that administrators with PhDs like to

Easter is a time for hope and renewal

Easter never seems to happen on the same day. Some years it falls in late March; some years it falls in late April. Sometimes it’s cold; sometimes it’s hot. 

Easter’s date changes because it’s based on the lunar cycle, celebrated Sunday after the first full moon following the March 21 equinox - but despite the most sacred of all Christian

holidays’ ability to hop all over the calendar, its message of hope, rebirth and redemption remains steadfast. 

In some traditions people observe Holy Week - from Palm Sunday to Maundy Thursday through Holy Saturday. Some people fast during Lenten season. Some hold somber Good Friday ceremonies followed by a poignant Sunrise Service Easter morning. Clearly, not everyone celebrates Easter in the same way - not everyone celebrates Easter at all – still, the message of restored life and renewal is one that is available to everyone. 

The blossoms of early spring are all around us now, just beginning to emerge, and their welcome sight and aroma highlight and embolden the  promise of eternal life. It’s easy to see why Spring is such a fitting parallel for the Easter holiday - the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection three days after his death - and it reminds us that we can be renewed and begin again with new life, or a new perception of our life. 

But just as we all hold Easter in different ways, renewal doesn’t always look the same. In nature it seems to happen all on its own. Seasons seem to change effortlessly from one to the next. Those buds we’re now seeing will turn to blossoms and eventually wither and die, to return just as lovely next year. But for people, in our day-to-day lives, renewal sometimes takes hard work and a willingness to reflect on events in our lives and move forward.

We’re reminded of the deadly Palm Sunday tornadoes that ripped through west Pickens in 1994. The surviving victims of that storm – people who lost their homes and their loves ones –had to pick up what was left of the life they knew, reflect, and forge ahead.   

This Easter, whether you are religious or not, whether you will attend church or not, why not take time to reflect and contemplate your own life and what the Easter promise of renewal means for you. Easter harkens change, which could mean a time to renew or deepen your faith or a time to renew an area of your life that needs attention. Maybe reflect on resolutions you made at the beginning of the year and either renew them, or evaluate and change directions based on things that may have happened the first few months of the year. Maybe it’s time to dig into a project you’ve been putting off, or a time to pursue new relationships or mend old ones. 

Whatever you need most during this season, Easter is a chance to begin again. This Sunday as people celebrate at church or with family and friends over a meal, and as children alight with the promise of a colorful egg hunt, Easter baskets, jellybeans and chocolate, we wish the spirit of Easter fills your minds and hearts. 

Happy Easter from the Progress!


A bittersweet goodbye to Ringling Bros. elephants

    The Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey circus was in Atlanta this past February, just like it has been every February since we can remember. And just like anyone who’s been to the circus knows, PETA was there too, set up outside the Phillips Arena with bullhorns and posters of abused animals – mainly Asian elephants.
     In what People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and other animal rights activists are calling a massive victory, Feld Entertainment (parent company of Ringling) has announced it will completely phase out elephants from its three touring shows by 2018. The 13 elephants currently performing will be sent to the circuses’ Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida to join 40 other elephants already living there.
    Feld Entertainment President Kenneth Feld cited legislation in some states that regulates the treatment of animals (i.e. the use of bull hooks - long, hooked poles), which has made touring logistics difficult.
    Feld Entertainment Executive Vice President Alana Feld also pointed to a sea of change among circus-goers.
    “There’s been somewhat of a mood shift among our consumers,” Feld said. “A lot of people aren’t comfortable with us touring with our elephants.”   
    In public statements from PETA, president Ingrid Newkirk rightly calls Ringling’s move “purely a business decision,” and PETA goes on to slam Ringling for a health threat the organization has dubbed the “smoking gun.” 
    According to articles on their website, PETA claims that beyond dollars and sense part of the reason Ringling is phasing out elephants is because, “at least since 2010” some tested positive for the human strain of tuberculosis, which is highly communicable to humans. PETA says they have obtained documentation from Ringling and the Department of Agriculture that proves their claims.
    “Ringling’s announcement seems to have been a preemptive move to keep the public in the dark about the extent of the health risk posed by moving sick elephants to cities throughout the country,” the  article states.
     Our stance on animals is what we’d call moderate. Animal cruelty and neglect is always wrong, but we eat meat and wear leather. Unlike our human family, if our pets get sick there’s a limit on what we’re going to spend at the vet to make them better.
    That being said, we feel really, really bad when we walk past those protesters at the circus, and once inside our adult selves can clearly see that the elephants look tired and sad. Their heads hang low. They seem lethargic. But it’s no wonder since they spend their lives in boxcars or cages and are always on the road. We’re reminded of Dumbo’s mom, who was jailed as the “Mad Elephant” in the Disney classic.  They’re prodded by bull hooks and wear shackles. The life of a circus elephant is, we’re sure, a terrible one - one we image could lead to illness, just like PETA claims.    
    When we were kids we didn’t notice the elephants’ misery. We were dazzled by the giant creatures’ ability to stand on one leg, spin around, then walk in a straight line while grasping the tail of the pachyderm in front of them with their trunk. For over 100 years Ringling has used the majesty of the elephant - which scientists have described as highly intelligent and sensitive animals - as their central marketing tool, and this centrality is why their departure from the Big Top is bittersweet for us. Just as Ringling has argued in the past, it is hard to imagine the circus without elephants, but that difficulty is trumped by compassion and humaneness.
    For us there’s no question these stunning animals deserve a better, more dignified life. Feld Entertainment says it’s “impractical” to relocate their elephants to the Florida conservation before 2018, but for us three years just isn’t soon enough.