Mycroft Masada is a queer trans faith leader who moved to the Washington DC area of Maryland’s Montgomery County from their lifelong home of Boston in 2014. Mycroft co-chairs the MoCo Pride Center, is a TransFaith National Council member, a TransEpiscopal Steering Committee member and former Congregation Am Tikva board member. Mycroft is particularly called to pursue justice at the intersections of LGBTQI+ and fat communities, and is an advocate, organizer, consultant, educator, trainer, writer and artist. They are partnered with Julia McCrossin, the massculine fatshion blogger, and with her co-parents a dogter. Their central online home is MasadArts.blogspot.com.

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Monday, June 24, 2013

MA height & weight anti-discrimination bill is back!

The Massachusetts height and weight anti-discrimination bill is back!  And it has a hearing on Tuesday June 25th.  Please read, submit testimony, attend, contact your legislators, spread the word, etc.!  MA voters are most needed but everything helps.  

An Act Making Discrimination on the Basis of Height and Weight Unlawful (House Bill 1758) has been re-filed.  It would amend MA state laws prohibiting discrimination in the areas of employment, housing, and public accommodations by adding “height” and “weight” to the list of legally protected ‘classes’.  The lead sponsor is Representative Byron Rushing, a longtime and amazing social justice leader, including for transgender rights and in the Episcopal Church (the Trans Equal Rights Law passed in November 2011, the Trans Equal Access Bill was filed this January).

This legislation is very badly needed and long overdue, and has already had a long process – and it may well be a longer one.  Many people here, as everywhere, are ignorant about weight and weight discrimination, and many assume weight is already included in MA law (as they should be). And there’s been very little visible local support in recent years; the primary local anti-weight-discrimination leader passed away several years ago and it seems like she hasn't been succeeded.  There’s a lot of potential support, including in my queer and faith communities, but it will take a great deal of (re-)education to make it actual.

Click here for my previous posts about the bill.  Thanks again to flabulous fat community leader Marilyn Wann for looping me into this a few years ago!

E-update of Tuesday May 28th (email Dave to put yourself on the list for updates):

Hi All,

Thank you for your past support and advocacy for legislation in Massachusetts to make it unlawful to discriminate based on height and weight. As you may know, Representative Rushing has again filed H. 1758, An Act Making Discrimination on the Basis of Height and Weight Unlawful during the current legislative session. 

I am writing to let you know that a hearing has been scheduled for this bill on Tuesday, June 25 before the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development.  The hearing begins at  10:00 am in Hearing Room B-1 in the  Massachusetts State House.  Representative Rushing would like to invite you to provide oral or written testimony in support of this bill.  Written testimony can be addressed to:

State House, Room 511B
Boston, MA 02133

State House, Room 39
Boston, MA 02133

Please reply to this email message  if you are interested in providing testimony in support of the bill.  If you know of others who might be interested in providing testimony in support of this legislation, please feel free to forward this email along.

I’ve attached a copy of the bill for your reference. Please feel free to contact me if I can be of any further assistance.  

Best,
Dave

Dave VanderWoude
Office of Majority Whip Byron Rushing
State House, Room 235
Boston, MA 02133

E-update of Thursday June 13th (email Dave to put yourself on the list for updates):

Hi All,

I am writing to remind you of the public hearing on Tuesday, June 25, regarding H. 1758,An Act Making Discrimination on the Basis of Height and Weight Unlawful.  Representative Rushing would greatly appreciate if you would be willing to provide oral and/or written testimony.   Please let me know if you plan to provide testimony if you haven’t done so already. 

The hearing begins at 10:00 am in Hearing Room B-1 in the Massachusetts State House and is scheduled to run until 3:00 pm.  The Committee is finalizing the order in which the bills will be heard, so I will send out this list as soon as I receive it to give you a more specific estimate of when the bill will be heard.  If you are unable to provide testimony in-person, you can submit written testimony by emailing the Committee Co-Chairs directly atThomas.Conroy@mahouse.gov and Daniel.Wolf@masenate.gov. Please copy me (David.VanderWoude@mahouse.gov) on the testimony you submit.

For your reference, I’ve attached a copy of the bill and included a brief summary below.
               
What would this bill do?
Section 4 of Chapter 151B and Sections 92A and 98 of Chapter 272 of the Massachusetts General Laws currently state that persons cannot be discriminated against in the areas of employment, housing, and public accommodations on the basis of race, color, religious creed, national origin, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, genetic information, or ancestry. 

This bill would amend these statutes to include height and weight to the list of unlawful forms of discrimination.  It would provide a legal remedy to those who have experienced discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations based on their weight or height.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

Best,
Dave

Dave VanderWoude
Office of Majority Whip Byron Rushing
State House, Room 235
Boston, MA 02133


E-update of Thursday June 20th (email Dave to put yourself on the list for updates):

Hi All,

I am writing to remind you of next week’s hearing regarding legislation that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of height and weight.  We would greatly appreciate it if you provide testimony, oral or written, in favor of this bill.  The text of the bill can be foundhere.

For those of you attending the hearing, I’ve listed the order in which the bills will be heard by the Labor and Workforce Development Committee.  The hearing begins at 10:00 am in Hearing Room B-1 in the Massachusetts State House and is scheduled to run until3:00 pm.

Please be in touch if you have any questions or concerns.

Best,
Dave


 Bill #
Lead Sponsor
Bill Title
H. 2460/S. 877
Rep. M. Walsh / Sen. Pacheco
An Act extending safety precautions to employees of the executive branch of the Commonwealth
H. 1733
Rep. Jones
An Act to provide a safe workplace for employees of the commonwealth and its political subdivisions
H. 1726
Rep. Gobi
An Act providing for the protection of emergency responders from dismissal
H. 1773
Rep. M. Walsh
An Act clarifying patient safety precautions
H. 1775
Rep. M. Walsh
An Act to provide occupational safeguards for employees resulting from the introduction and utilization of video display terminals
S. 859
Sen. Eldridge
An Act clarifying the meal break law to allow for private enforcement
S. 881
Sen. Petruccelli
An Act relative to climate conditions in public schools
H.1702 / H. 1767
Rep. Calter / Rep. Story / Sen. Jehlen
An Act further defining comparable work
H. 1758
Rep. Rushing
An Act making discrimination on the basis of height and weight unlawful
H. 1766
Rep. Story / Sen. Clark
An Act addressing workplace bullying, mobbing, and harassment, without regard to protected class status
H. 1780
Rep. Walz
An Act relative to non-discrimination training in the workplace
H. 3231
Rep. Coakley-Rivera
An Act relative to discrimination in the workplace
S. 867
Sen. Joyce
An Act preventing discrimination based on veteran’s status
H. 1740
Rep. Koczera
An Act providing unpaid family and medical leave
H. 1746
Rep. Mark
An Act regulating Chapter 136
H. 1764 / S. 853
Rep. Stanley / Sen. Creem
An Act to establish employment leave and safety remedies to victims of domestic violence, stalking and sexual assault
H. 1774 / S. 865
Rep. M. Walsh / Sen. Jehlen
An Act relative to parental leave
H. 1718 / S. 887
Sen. Dorcena Forry / Sen. Rodrigues
An Act relative to the fair distribution of gratuities / An Act relative to the pooling of tips
H. 1749 / S. 862
Rep. Michlewitz / Sen. Hart
An Act to further protect an employee’s right to tips

My testimony, submitted Sunday June 23rd by email:

June 25, 2013

Senator Daniel A. Wolf
Senate Chair, Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development
State House, Room 511B
Boston, MA  02133

Representative Thomas P. Conroy
House Chair, Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development
State House, Room 39
Boston, MA  02133

Via email:  Daniel.Wolf@masenate.gov | Thomas.Conroy@mahouse.gov 

Dear Senator Wolf and Representative Conroy --

My name is Mycroft Masada Holmes, and I live and work in greater Boston, where I was born 37 years ago this month and where I have always lived.  I love Boston and the rest of Massachusetts; this great city and state have always truly been my home and I hope they always will be.  

I’m an interfaith leader – Chair of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition’s (MTPC) Interfaith Coalition for Transgender Equality (ICTE), a Community Engagement Adviser at TransFaith, and a board member of Congregation Am Tikva.  Much of my work has been in support of the Transgender Equal Rights Law and the Transgender Equal Access Bill (House Bill 1589 / Senate Bill 643). 

Today, I testify in support of House Bill 1758 -- An Act Making Discrimination on the Basis of Height and Weight Unlawful.  I testified in person and in writing in support of this bill (then House Bill 1850) at its hearing on January 27th of 2010; I also read the testimony of attorney Sondra Solovay, who could not attend as she was in California where she lives and usually works.  I testified in writing for the bill’s hearing on July 14th of 2011 (then House Bill 539); I was unable to attend, largely due to the very short notice.  I plan to attend and testify at today’s hearing.     

Section 4 of Chapter 151B and Sections 92A and 98 of Chapter 272 of the Massachusetts General Laws currently state that persons cannot be discriminated against in the areas of employment, housing, and public accommodations on the basis of race, color, religious creed, national origin, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, genetic information, or ancestry. 

This bill would amend these statutes to include height and weight to the list of unlawful forms of discrimination.  It would provide a legal remedy to those who have experienced discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations based on their weight or height.

In all but one state and three cities in this country, weight is not included in anti-discrimination or hate crimes laws.  How can this be?  How can Massachusetts remain one of those forty-nine states?  How can we not right this as soon as possible – indeed, during this legislative session?  

My faiths teach that like Adam, the first human being, all people are made btzelem Elohim – in the image of God -- people of all sizes, shapes, weights and heights.  Our infinite diversity of bodies and their changes over our lifetimes are gifts and blessings -- meant to be lived and shared with happiness and pride.  God creates and loves all of us, equally.  And all of us should be equally protected by the law.  

In my personal and professional life, I have experienced, witnessed and researched a great deal of discrimination – especially in employment.  Much of it has been based on physical appearance and information, particularly height and weight.  This discrimination is wrong, terribly damaging to everyone involved, and occurs many times every day in every part of our state.  It must be ended as soon as possible, and HB 1758 will help to end it.  The bill is also an important educational tool – its implementation process will help dispel the overwhelming and rapidly growing ignorance, misinformation and phobia about height and weight.  I won’t go into detail, as you will be given expert testimony about these issues from my colleagues – ample evidence of the very significant and deeply urgent need for this legislation.  

My wonderful life partner Julia McCrossin and I are the same height, 5’7”, and she weighs more than twice what I do – I am in the 130s, she in the 300s; I have always been thin, she has always been fat.  Despite a lifetime of discrimination and other mistreatment, much of it based on her weight, Julia has been largely happy and healthy,  and a good and productive citizen.  She is a published and active English and Fat Studies academic, a volunteer at her local animal shelter and a loving dog owner, and a devoted daughter to her disabled mother.  She has been and is a tremendous gift and blessing to her family, friends, colleagues, teachers, students, and all those who have been fortunate enough to know her, or indeed know of her.  

Julia is a native and lifelong resident of Maryland and Washington DC – where the Human Rights Laws include height and weight in “physical appearance”.  She has visited me here in Massachusetts several times over the four years we’ve been partnered.  We are considering making our home here, and in any case will visit, and have much to offer my great state.  But we are both challenged by discrimination, especially in employment.  We need An Act Making Discrimination On The Basis Of Height And Weight Unlawful to pass into law, and soon.  

I want my partner to have full civil rights whenever she’s here, and wherever she is.  I want her to be able to continue to live, work and play better than she has done, contributing even more to her society than she has.  I want this for all residents of and visitors to Massachusetts.  I don’t want anyone to experience discrimination – and yet I know that some will, and I want them to be able to take appropriate action.   I urge you to do everything you can to pass this vital and long overdue legislation during this session.  

Thank you,

Mycroft Holmes
{home and e-mail addresses}  

Cc: Dave VanderWoude
Office of Majority Whip Byron Rushing
State House, Room 235
Boston, MA  02133
Via email: david.vanderwoude@mahouse.gov

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Itzik's Well / Irwin Keller's "What Jews Look Like (Or: did they ever diet in the shtetl?)"

AWESOME -- and accessible -- midrash re: Parashat Korach, fatness, and more!  Itzik's Well / Irwin Keller's "What Jews Look Like (Or: did they ever diet in the shtetl?)".  Thanks to Penina Weinberg (local fellow faith leader) for sharing it with me!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

What Jews Look Like (Or: did they ever diet in the shtetl?)

This week we read Parashat Korach, the portion of the book of Numbers in which a Levite named Korach, along with his family and friends, speaks out against Moshe's authority, arguing that the people's truth needs to have a role as well. Moshe sets up a test, or maybe an ambush, and Korach receives a divine slapdown of almost unimaginable proportions. Not only are his ideas quashed, but he and his people are swallowed up by the earth. The firepans they had used in the test are purified in fire and become part of the altar -- as a warning, according to the harsh text.

It's an interesting portion because as modern Jews, as voices for social justice, as questioners of authority and would-be truthtellers, our sympathies tend to lie with Korach. For me, this week has become an annual celebration of the rebel in us, and of our willingness to suffer the slapdown, the backlash, the firestorm that sometimes follows in the wake of representing unpopular truths.

And so I was particularly interested and excited this week to read the essay "Sized Up" by my friend Anna Mollow. In it, Anna takes to task our conventional wisdom about fatness and the health risks popularly associated with it. She asks us to look at the science, which does not support our suppositions and, once we're done with that, to see the ways in which it has become popular and unremarkable to scapegoat fat people in our society. Why, she wonders, is it important to harangue fat people for being fat, when studies actually suggest that fat people live longer than skinny people.

Speaking out, Korach-like, against conventional wisdom -- against ideas that we are certain are truth but can't quite put our fingers on how we know that -- she brought on a firestorm. If you're wondering where firestorms occur in this day and age, just look at the "comments" section of any online article. Some commenters expressed gratitude and relief for their truth being spoken. And others condemned, sometimes in cruel and personal terms, the very suggestion that our ideas about fat might be wrong. After all, what believer in healthy living wants to be told that they might actually be guilty of an ugly sort of prejudice that can no longer quite so easily be packaged as scientific or even painted as well-meaning?

I was among those who thought, "This can't be true. Fat people live longer?" So I went to some of Anna's sources, including The Diet Myth by Paul Campos and New York Times reporter Gina Kolata's Rethinking Thin: The New Science of Weight Loss---and the Myths and Realities of Dieting. These books are exposés, gathering up the science that supposedly justifies our views of fat. But what the studies actually say is not at all what we've been told, and it's eye opening. Here are some of the surprising findings that you might need to read a couple times to absorb:
  • People categorized as "overweight" under current body-mass index (BMI) standards typically have a decreased risk of premature mortality. That is, fat people live longer. Mind if I say that again? Fat people live longer. 
  • Healthy diet and physical activity promote longevity -- in fat and thin people equally, without regard to whether it produces weight loss. 
  • Fat people have no greater risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, etc. than thin people.
  • People at the far extremes of the bell curve -- both fat and thin -- suffer complications. 
  • Making a long-term, significant change in one's body weight is nearly impossible.
  • The greatest health risk fat people seem to face -- and it's a big one -- is dieting. Shedding 20 pounds and gaining them back (which is nearly always the case in the long run) radically increases the risk congestive heart failure, vascular disease and other problems we've typically associated with being fat per sé. In other words, it's pushing fat people, including ourselves, to diet that puts one at risk for all those nasty conditions.
In her essay, Anna sketches this problem as a queer issue, noting how the almost unthinking scapegoating of fat people looks like, and serves a similar social function as, the oppression of queers in this country (at least until relatively recently). Where queers were medicalized and psychologized baselessly; where queer jokes and disparaging comments used to be safe in any social setting, it is now fat people who are medicalized, and it is the fat joke that no one will object to.

And I, because it's what I do, would like to make this a Jewish issue as well, as many others, such as my friend Jane Herman, have often done. Because we Jews, as a tribe, come from shtetl stock; our bodies do, in fact, deviate from the American ideal. Thin is not our dominant shape. And our shape should be our core reference point, not the shape of someone on a Weight Watchers commercial.

So I'd like you to meet some poeple.


These are my great-grandmothers -- the two on the sides, seen here flanking my grandmother,  all celebrating Mother's Day in the early 1950s on Chicago's Michigan Avenue. Rebecca is on the left and Rose on the right. Grandma Sade is in the middle, but it is Rebecca and Rose I want to talk about. Both diminutive in height, both formidable women, both immigrants, both zaftik.1

Neither of my great grandmothers was ever told to diet; neither of them ever did. Neither of them was told that fat was bad or that to be Americans they had to be skinny and blonde. Neither was informed of the supposed health risks of obesity, although both would certainly qualify as "obese" under the current BMI standards (as do, by the way, George Clooney and Tom Cruise). As busy balabostehs, heroic homemakers with many newly American children, neither had time to notice that fat people were supposed to be lazy and sedentary. Probably neither ever ate a McDonalds hamburger, although they ate well and Jewish. Both lived well into their 90s.

This is, takeh, how Jewish women look. At least in my book.

The point is that our ideas about fat are social, not medical. There is a social hatred of fat people in this country today, and in the last generation or so we have justified it with false science. The real science is out there, but the media and the public haven't caught on, and the diet industry doesn't want us to.

What is normal weight? What makes a weight ideal? Looking at the data, heavier than our current norm is in fact better for you. It's as if someone took the actual ideal window, compressed it and gave it a hard shove leftward on the bell curve.

Remember your grandmothers and your aunties; your Ashkenazic, immigrant, pre-diet craze foremothers. That is what women look like.

Once the science is yanked out from under the supposition that fat is bad, what is left to justify our constant criticism of fat people? An aesthetic judgment? Fat people are not attractive? A moral judgment? Fat people are lazy or lacking in self-control? No one would have called my great grandmothers any of those things. No one would have called them unattractive -- at least not until they arrived in America, where Jews and other undesirable ethnics increasingly could not be kept out of the professions and the social clubs, but at least they could be kept out of the aesthetic of physical desirability. A skinny Anglo-Saxon aesthetic, combined with a Puritan work ethic and, eventually, a multi-billion dollar diet industry, turned people who look like our grandmothers into people to be judged on the basis of their bodies.

Jews - take note. Our bodies haven't changed; just our values. Did anyone ever go on a diet in the shtetl? What would the idea of purposeful weight loss have sounded like to them?

Narishkayt. 

Goyim naches.

Reject the war on obesity. Reject the vilification of fat people. Speak up against fat jokes. Oppose the shaming of fat kids, whether it is by school yard bullies or by public health campaigns. Fight for good health, healthy food, healthy activity and health care for everyone of all sizes. Stop trying to make fat people thin - and that includes yourself.

Before we finish, though, there is something in the Korach story that has always puzzled me. The firepans that belonged to Korach the rebel and his people are incorporated into the altar in the mishkan, the holy tent. You'd expect them instead to be cast out of the encampment. And though the text says it's a warning, some element of Korach's rebellion is clearly understood to be holy. And over time, Korach's plea for equality and fairness has become as holy and Jewish a value as anything Moses handed down at Mt. Sinai.

Plus, as my friend Atzilah Solot pointed out to me this week, another element of Korach is this: that even when our ideas are swallowed up by the earth, they become like seeds that will most certainly bloom later.

So let us open ourselves up to new truths; let us question any orthodoxy of thought; let us stand up for equality and fairness even -- and especially -- when the culture tells us that harsh judgments leveled against a class of people are natural and justified. And even if our voices are drowned out right now, know that we will have planted the seeds whose blossoming is just a season away.

Many thanks to Anna Mollow, Jane Herman and Atzilah Solot for all the inspiration and the insights.


Anna warns in her essay against euphemizing "fat", but I perceive "zaftik" in Yiddish as both non-evasive and as having a warm, favorable valence, meaning literally "juicy." I've always perceived it to be a word that doesn't mince words, and which is said proudly, descriptively and lovingly. I could be wrong - I've never been called zaftik, I don't know how it feels. And being affectionate doesn't necessarily make a euphemism not a euphemism. Maybe it's true that I don't want to say fat, and that I'm still working up to it. But in any event, in the name of reclaiming our particularly Jewish acceptance of diverse body shapes, I'm willing to go out on this limb.