--- By Carole Cullum,
Francisco fat activist Marilyn Wann did this incredible thing in February
1999. She energized the fat community in the San Francisco Bay Area to
demonstrate outside of a 24-Hour Fitness facility for its fatphobic
billboard (see Radiance, Winter 2000,
for the whole story). As a result of the tremendous press coverage of this
demonstration, the office of San Francisco Supervisor Tom Ammiano
contacted the protest’s core organizers to arrange a hearing with the
city’s Human Rights Commission. The meeting explored the need to expand
the rights provided to fat people under existing antidiscrimination laws
of the city and county of San Francisco. Our goal was to introduce an
ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on weight and body type.
three months, our core group—Marilyn Wann, Sondra Solovay, Frances
White, Jo Kuney, and I—conducted research and contacted other states and
cities that had passed similar laws. Then, prior to the hearing, we
presented the San Francisco Human Rights Commission with a proposal for
how the city’s existing law could be easily amended to prohibit
discrimination against fat people in housing, employment, and public
accommodations. We leafleted the community up to a month before the
hearing date, asking for people to contact us, to submit their stories,
and to support this effort.
Ours was the first item on the Human Rights
Commission agenda on June 10, 1999. We came with many supporters! Each
speaker had up to seven minutes to talk. Marilyn Wann spoke about
debunking the weight-loss myth. Pat Lyons spoke of prejudices that create
barriers to health care. Professor Joanne Ikeda spoke about her experience
as the California Health Department expert on teen obesity, where she came
to realize the tremendous impact that prejudice has on fat teenagers,
sometimes leading to depression and suicide. Dan Kelly, M.D., a
pediatrician and member of the San Francisco School Board, sent a letter
to the commission supporting the proposed law, citing the impact our
cultural obsession with thinness has on kids. Arthur Jackson, a private
employment recruiter, talked about the pervasiveness of fat discrimination
by employers and his agency’s commitment to fighting that
discrimination. Frances White of the National Association to Advance Fat
Acceptance (NAAFA) spoke about her experiences of employment
discrimination, as did Carol Volansky. Sondra Solovay shocked the
commission when she played a radio ad encouraging fat people’s
mutilation of their bodies by submitting to weight-loss surgery so that
they can fit society’s idea of appropriate body size. Margarita Rossi, a
sixteen-year-old high school student, spoke movingly about her experiences
as a fat teen and the discrimination that she experienced at school (see
her talk, page 33). As Rossi spoke, the room was absolutely quiet. I could
see tears in the eyes of several commissioners. My own discussion in front
of the commission focused on public accommodations and the importance and
very low cost involved in providing suitable access to schools,
restaurants, theaters, courts, and so on.
This hearing took about an hour. The
commissioners unanimously approved sending a request to the Board of
Supervisors for a change in the city and county laws. The matter is
presently in committee, and we expect a response from the Board of
Supervisors within a few months.
It is vital for groups in every community
to approach their human rights commission and city council people and ask
for hearings to evaluate and update antidiscrimination laws. It takes a
tremendous amount of courage, but once the issue is brought up, it’s
incredibly energizing and self-affirming for everyone involved. We want to
bring positive results to the community. We fat people talk about wanting
change, but unless we get out there and state our demands, those changes
will never happen. ©
CAROLE CULLUM is a certified
family law specialist in practice in San Francisco with her law partner,
Cheryl Sena. She was appointed by Mayor Willie Brown to the Board of
Appeals, where she acted as president for two years and continues to serve
today. She is very involved in her local Democratic Club and believes that
activism is an absolute requirement for social change. She lives in San
Francisco with her domestic partner, Kathy, and her two dogs, Sandy and
Sally. Carole was the subject of a Radiance
cover story in our sixth issue, Winter 1986. E-mail Carole at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A plus-size teenager speaks on size acceptance to
San Francisco's Human Rights Commission
--- by MARGARITA ROSSI
name is Margarita Rossi. I am sixteen years old today. I live in Daly
City. I attend the School of the Arts in San Francisco, where I just
completed my sophomore year.
Last year, I had a health concern that was
scaring both my mother and me. I sought advice from my regular physician
at Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco. He referred me to a gynecologist.
The first available appointment was two months later.
that appointment, the nurse practitioner made repeated comments and
inquiries about my weight, even though I told her up front that I was not
interested in weight-loss advice. I lead a very healthy and active life. I
exercise regularly and eat a balanced diet. Although the nurse
practitioner got information about my symptoms, she did not perform a
gynecological exam. What worried me most was that I left the appointment
with no diagnosis and no treatment for my health concern. She told me it
was nothing, even though she had barely examined me.
I would like to mention several comments
the nurse made during my appointment that led me to believe that my weight
was a bigger priority for her than my wellness. First, she offered to
recommend diet plans and told me I could talk with her in the future if I
ever wanted to try to lose weight. She spent a lot more time on this than
she did on examining me. Secondly, she did perform a breast exam, even
though it had nothing to do with my health concern. During this exam, she
said she couldn’t be certain of detecting any problems because of “the
extra fatty tissue.” (Whatever that means!) Finally, she continued to
make comments about my weight after I told her I wasn’t interested in
talking about it.
If I were the type of teenager who had less
confidence about body image, this nurse’s comments would have made me
feel very bad about myself and very unwilling to go to the doctor again.
But since I am very secure about my body, I just got very annoyed and
angry that this health professional basically refused to help me and
lectured me about something that had nothing to do with my specific
In the end, I had to make another
appointment and had to pay more for it. During this appointment, I
received a real gynecological exam. I was told that I did have a genuine
health problem that needed treatment. I learned that I had probably had
this condition for many months, and that I had certainly had it when I
went to the previous appointment. At long last, I received proper
treatment, which included medication, and I got better.
I hate to think that other teenage girls in
San Francisco might suffer what I went through just to get basic medical
care. I worry that other girls in my situation would have given up, would
never have gotten treated, and might have developed lower self-esteem or
even depression in addition to health complications as a result of a lack
of real health care.
Fat people deserve the same quality of
medical care that thin people deserve. We don’t need weight-loss advice
instead of appropriate treatment. I urge the City of San Francisco and the
Human Rights Commission to enact a ban on weight-related discrimination.
MARGARITA ROSSI is a
sixteen-year-old activist living in San Francisco. She is interested in
film and film making, art, and psychology. Currently she attends the San
Francisco School of the Arts, where she studies visual arts. Margarita
received some help preparing her talk from Marilyn Wann.
this is only a taste of what's inside the
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