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From Off Our Backs, 7/1/05

here's to flourishing feminist media

Enclosed is a $50 contribution toward your steadfast efforts to keep oob alive and well. We applaud you for continuing to publish for 35 years when so many other feminist papers and magazines have gone under.

We agree that oob has improved, especially your coverage of international and working class issues. We found your January/February issue on "Women, Money and Class" especially informative on the innovative ways that women are demanding government funding and challenging corporate U.S.A. for its sexist and discriminatory policies. The articles on working women fighting for childcare in Washington, D.C., and mothers taking on Starbucks in Austin for their right to nurse in public are two excellent examples of why the independent national feminist press is so necessary. Learning about these battles fosters female self-confidence and helps to keep the women's movement alive.

Thank you for your excellent work. Here's to the flourishing of independent media, especially the feminist kind!

In solidarity,

Nancy Reiko Kato

National Organizer

Radical Women-National Office

San Francisco, CA

an open letter by robin tyler: time for another march on D.C.

How many marriage bans must pass before we get angry? We need to march before the next president is elected.

I initiated the first call for the 2000 Millennium March on Washington and then watched as our community ripped each other apart. I quit the organization team for that march and swore I would never again call for a LGBT march.

I was the "deep throat" who leaked the story to Mike Signorile that the FBI was investigating the missing tens of thousands of dollars from the Millennium March festival. I came away from that debacle swearing I would never again get caught between the insanity of the politically correct left, on the one hand, and the need for major organizations to dominate, control and financially gain from any and every event.

Watching Elizabeth Birch, then the executive director of the Human Rights Campaign, get caught up in what escalated into a screaming argument with Kerry Lobel, then the director of National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, in my living room, at the beginning of the march organizing, gave me the first indication that I did not want to be caught in the crossfire of major egos.

I went on to happily co-found, and then, to work on marriage equality, through my own, all-volunteer organization, For the first time in my political life, I was at peace.

But that time is over. We are under siege. Yes, we have "Will & Grace," and "Queer Eye," and out performers and visibility.

But still we do not have one civil right on a federal level, and the radical right industry is raising tens of millions and political capital by making us the ultimate scapegoats.

How many state constitutional amendments need to pass before we get angry? How many of our so-called friends in elected office, and other Democrats, need to betray us by supporting marriage segregation, while accepting awards at LGBT dinners, as if civil rights stops at the altar?

Where are the celebrities who publicly ran to our defense during the AIDS crisis? Don't Barbara Streisand and Cher think their gay and lesbian children should have the right to marry? Would they appear at our next march and say so?

What about Madonna? Would Elton John come on the main stage? How about Angelina Jolie?

THIS IS NOT a march just about marriage equality. This needs to be a march-finally-demanding all our civil rights. What good were the 1979, 1987, 1993 and 2000 marches?

The 1979 march brought us together and gave birth to many organizations and new activists.

During the 1987 march, we did not ask for "help" with the AIDS epidemic. We demanded immediate action. We understood it was a life or death matter. And because of our radical stance, we made it a national issue.

The 1993 march was the first one to be televised. Our own stars came out: Melissa, Martina and Sir Ian. But the march was overwhelmingly supportive of President Bill Clinton (as was I), who, although he had promised to appear, and then, to send a video, betrayed us, and did neither. He sent a written greeting. He then went on to break his commitment to equal employment rights in the military and signed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Then he signed the Defense of Marriage Act, and had the chutzpah to brag about that in commercials he ran on rightwing "Christian" radio stations.

The 2000 Millennium March was also used as an organizing tool for the Democratic Party. We were not as angry or demanding as in 1987. We believed them.

THIS MARCH MUST be built on an entirely different basis than the last few marches. In this march, there must be a litmus test: either support full legal equality for LGBT people, including the equal right to marry, or be prepared to catch hell, regardless of your party affiliation.

Too many recent marches, whether for LGBT rights or others, have focused all of their fire on the Republicans, and what has it gotten us?

Our friends in the Democratic Party keep moving to the right. The recent filibuster "compromise" meant extremely homophobic judges will be confirmed. That wasn't a compromise. That was the selling out of our community.

Unless we show a strong and united presence before the next presidential election, our community will be once again sacrificed, and we must not remain silent.

It is time that we let go of the dream that we will advance "inside the tent." The Republican politicians hate us, and most of the Democrats just want us to shut up about equal rights and meekly deliver our votes to them.

WE CEDE CONTROL of our lives if we remain silent, in the name of "party unity" or "party loyalty," while the fundamentalists strengthen their choke hold on the political system and our "friends" scapegoat us for their electoral failings and lack of backbone. We did not cause the Democratic Party to lose the last election; they did it all by themselves by failing to stand for anything, while the Republicans stood for a more arrogant America abroad and heightened bigotry at home.

The truth is we have no federal rights to sacrifice. Not one. We have nothing to lose, and everything to gain, by marching in the year that the next presidential elections are being held. Besides the many anti-gay Republican politicians, it's time for anti-equality politicians in the Democratic Party to be accountable to our community. Period.

And so, I call on all who believe in full and total civil rights for our community-Matt Foreman, NGLTF, Joe Solomese, HRC, GLAAD, PFLAG, all the "Queers against the Millennium March on Washington," every LGBT organization, state group, and community center, every LGBT person and all of our non-LGBT allies-all of us, because we are under siege, to put aside all differences, and agree to work together on the 2008 March on Washington.

Yes, as he has said with every grassroots organizing project since he was brought out of the closet, Barney Frank will once again say that this will not work. Well, Barney, we having nothing to loose. Ready or not, here we come.

The great anti-slavery and civil rights activist Frederick Douglass said that "Power concedes nothing without a demand. Never has. Never will." We intend that this march will make DEMANDS on the politicians, regardless of their party affiliations, and that if they oppose legal equality, if they refuse to do the bare minimum of treating LGBT as equal human beings under the law, we will be unflinching in our criticism of them.

The projected date for the march will be in April 2008 in Washington, D.C. For those interested in helping to begin organizing, contact

Robin Tyler

Robin Tyler initiated the calls for the 1979 and 2000 Marches on Washington. She produced the main stages for the 1979, 1987 and 1993 marches.

Million Dollar Baby review ignored disability activists

I just finished reading Karen Wyman's review of Million Dollar Baby in your last issue, and I just wondered: Is there some reason all the street demonstrations and harsh criticism from disability activists was totally ignored in her review? There was no mention AT ALL of the disability community's specific objections to numerous columns, news articles, blog entries, flame wars, defensive bullshit interviews from Eastwood in places such as NEW MOBILTY, etc.

Why this rather glaring and starting omission? Just wondered if gimps exist in the oob universe.

Besides this, enjoyed the issue.

grateful for "accurate" information

Your publication is very vital considering the U.S. political climate... we need to have "accurate" information about womyn's rights and human rights worldwide.

Thank you! We must stand firm.


Emilie Spielmann

Clifton Park, NY

justice for battered women

Although the circumstances surrounding what happened to Leisa Pyatt of New Jersey and Maria La Pinta of New York are considerably different, both women were victims of domestic violence, and of a court system that judged them without consideration of what that meant.

While Maria LaPinta spent 20 years in prison for having an active role in the intentional killing of her husband by helping her brother dispose of the body after he shot him, Leisa Pyatt has spent 12 years of a 40 year sentence in prison for the accidental death of her fiancé Kevin. Ms. LaPinta has recently been set free on an appeal presented by her attorney son, and has reunited with her family. Leisa's clemency appeal is now before the Governor of New Jersey and it is her last hope of freedom and reuniting with her family.

Fourteen years ago, while Kevin was beating Leisa in a drunken rage (because she would not give him the keys to the car, as he had lost his license in court for drunk driving that morning), he threatened to kill her and her 2year-old son. She put a knife between them that she'd grabbed from the drawer he had just kicked open, and in the ensuing struggle, the knife penetrated his chest 3/4 of an inch. It was a very sharp fishing knife that would easily have penetrated his chest to the hilt had there been intentional injury. As it turned out, the wound was bizarre to begin with, and because it did not seem serious to the hospital staff, he was left waiting for over an hour before he was treated. Meanwhile he was bleeding internally and this, compounded by his high blood/alcohol levels aggravated the situation. When they finally did the surgery, they fixed the wrong artery first and Kevin died. The testimony attesting to this by expert medical witnesses was never heard by the jury, as the Judge did not allow it.

There were many problems with Leisa's trial that have not been properly addressed.

The police photos of the marks on her neck left when Kevin was trying to choke her during the struggle were never seen by the jury as the photos mysteriously disappeared, and the judge did not allow testimony from the matron at the jail, who had witnessed the choke marks and bruises.

The jury also never heard testimony from a group of ambulance workers who had witnessed Leisa leaning backwards on the balcony of their apartment, with Kevin leaning on top of her trying to get something from her hands (the keys) moments before she called police. The judge did not allow it.

Leisa's assigned attorney, Public Defender Bonnie Richmond, who had worked for months on the case, had assured Leisa and her family that her case would result in an acquittal or, at the very worse, a manslaughter charge. Two weeks before the trial, Ms. Richmond was pulled from the case and when she applied to the courts to continue representing Leisa, she was told that if she continued to pursue this, she would be at risk of losing her job.

Kevin Young, the new attorney assigned to her case, had never tried a capital case, did not return Leisa's or her parents phone calls, and seemed preoccupied because he was getting married within a few weeks of the trial. He later admitted to committing several major errors in the trial-one of which was neglecting to offer her a plea bargain, he later admitted-because he did not think she would accept it.

He also failed to adequately interview and prepare witnesses. A friend of the family who was very ill passed away prior to the trial, and Leisa's attorney failed to get his written statement attesting to that fact that he had witnessed Kevin beating Leisa many times. He also called as a witness a former girlfriend of Kevin's, who had moved out of state. When she arrived at the airport, she was met by Kevin's parents, stayed at their home and was interviewed by the prosecutor. Leisa's attorney never spoke with this witness and when she got on the stand she said she never should have left Kevin and that she still loved him. When asked about the calls to police when he had beaten her with a closet pole and she had signed a complaint, she claimed to have lied to the police.

There had also been erroneous testimony the jury heard, never challenged by Leisa's attorney-from a woman who said that Leisa had lived in her apartment complex and got in a fight in the courtyard with a man who lived there with her. Leisa had never lived in that apartment complex, but when she and her parents tried to tell her attorney that this needed to be challenged, he said it was not important.

Some believe that the greatest damage done to Leisa was when the psychiatrist testified. Leisa's attorney did not speak to him prior to his taking the stand and, when asked about Leisa's psychological profile, he casually mentioned that Leisa had been a troubled teenager and had had two abortions in her youth. The jury, who had been grilled prior to selection on how they felt about domestic violence, had never been asked about how they felt about abortion-a highly emotionally charged issue. Yet, the trial never skipped a beat and very possibly many of the jury members and perhaps even the judge had developed a subconscious judgment about Leisa, based on their own impassioned belief systems.

Leisa has had 2 appeals before the same judge who presided at her trial. Both were turned down. Paul Bergrin, the attorney, who handled Leisa's most recent appeal said, "In my 25 years of practice, as a former prosecutor, US Attorney, Military Officer, Military Attorney, and Defense Lawyer, I have never seen a greater travesty of justice to any human being."

Sandra Ramos, founder of the first shelter for battered women in North America and currently executive director of Strengthen Our Sisters shelter for battered women in Passaic County, is often called upon as an expert witness in domestic violence cases. In 1998, after Leisa saw a TV program profiling Sandra's work, she contacted her, told her what happened and asked for help. "We read the entire transcript of her trial, met with Leisa, her parents and grandparents, before getting involved" Ramos explained, and added, "In the 35 years I have been advocating for victims of domestic violence, I have learned much and there is no doubt in my mind that Leisa Pyatt was a victim of abuse and only defended herself when her child was threatened-as is often the case with battered women. I am also convinced that if Leisa and her family had money for an experienced attorney, she never would have received a 40 year sentence."

Ramos, along with several others have organized Justice for Mothers and Children (JMC) to provide support for Leisa while in prison, and to help her with her clemency appeal.

Chairman and Founder of the New Jersey based Evergreen Philanthropic Foundation John Ignozza, has been following Leisa's case for several years. He said, "I cannot comprehend that our legal system has allowed such blind injustice in the case of Leisa Pyatt, who acted in self-defense while protecting her child. No judge has ever taken the time to really examine this case-40 years for doing what any mother would or should have done is the real crime."

Anna Marie Tait, director of Strengthen Our Sisters' self-help legal clinic and member of JMC, commented, "It is important to note that the domestic violence laws have changed since Leisa's trial. Today she would have been considered a hero for saving her son and herself from becoming a statistic. The law changed for a reason and should be a consideration." She added, "It is also important to recognize that Leisa, in keeping the car keys away from Kevin on that fateful day, may have actually saved the lives of others as he would have driven impaired because he was seriously drunk."

Some JMC members have questioned the Judge's ability to make good judicial decisions in not permitting the jury to hear critical testimony that would likely have brought a different verdict. They cited another NJ case, where the same Judge sent a disturbed violent 15-yearold boy home with instructions to be a good boy, despite pleas from his parents to place him in protective custody, as they believed that he was a danger to others. Three days later, the 15-year-old enticed an 11-year-old boy into his home, sexually assaulted him, strangled him to death, and stuffed the boy's body into a suitcase. The same judge also very recently gave a man probation for a year in the death of his baby after leaving the child in a car while he went to class, having claimed that he forgot to bring him to the babysitter.

Ramos said, "During Leisa's 12 years in prison, she has seen women who have KILLED their own children in cold blood, come and go."

Karin Westdyk, program director of Strengthen Our Sisters and JMC member said, "We can only hope that the Governor will finally actually take the time to read and understand what has happened in this case so that this injustice-not only to Leisa, but to her children as well, who have been forced to grow up without their mother-can be overturned. She added, "The last time I visited Leisa, she told me that one of the ways she has learned to cope in prison is, before she goes to sleep at night, she imagines her son and daughter on either side of her in a big chair, one under each arm."

Leisa's daughter Tatiana, born just before her mother's trial, would love to spend more time with her Mom, and Leisa's son Michael, now 16 and a football player, lives daily with the knowledge that his mother is in prison because she acted to save his life. He called his mother during his recent 16th birthday party and declared in front of his friends, "I love you, Mommy. I don't care if my friends make fun of me. I love my Mom and I want everyone to know."

Despite the horror of being in prison for so long, Leisa has used her time wisely. As her Grandmother once said in describing Leisa, "She has a heart of gold and wouldn't hurt a flea," Leisa spends a good deal of her time helping other prisoners with GED and college preparatory work, as well as computer technology. She has also participated in all the classes and training programs available for prisoners.

The Justice for Mothers and Children group worked with Leisa and her family to develop a chronology and summary of the events of her trial. The document contains an account of what happened in Leisa's own words, followed by an Appendix prepared by the committee. This was distributed at a recent press conference held in Trenton and is available online at There is also a video interview with Leisa's parents available for anyone wishing to further document this story.

The Justice for Mothers and Children group has been gathering letters of support to accompany Leisa's clemency appeal. Those interested in helping should send 2 signed letters requesting clemency for Leisa, to Governor Richard Cody, POB 001, Trenton, NJ, with The words "Leisa Pyatt Clemency Support" on the envelope. Those seeking additional information, a copy of the video, or wanting to help can call Sandra Ramos at 973-831-6156, or Karin Westdyk at 973-248-0776, or email

Karin Westdyk

Copyright Off Our Backs, Inc. Jul/Aug 2005
Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved

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