Late last week HRC President Chad Griffin offered a keynote speech at the Southern Comfort transgender conference acknowledging his organization’s failure to support the transgender community and its history of obstructionism (see here, here, and here) against trans civil rights. I and others called it a problematic apology, because he seemed to couch his understanding of HRC’s mistakes as one of simply not knowing enough about us (which has not always been the issue), and he framed his new approach in a paternalistic way, instead of asking us what HRC should be working on or how they can help.
People in the LGBT movement have for years been wondering amongst themselves just what will happen when the infrastructure that has been set up (to funnel money into the same-sex marriage movement) doesn’t need the same focus anymore. Will the donors move their money to a new issue? Buy yachts and celebrate the institution of marriage? Fund political campaigns?
I’m not here to argue about whether HRC is anti-trans or not (I’ve certainly made my views clear), not in this post, anyway. Instead I’d like to point out that Mr. Griffin’s idea that HRC will include trans-specific protections in the next anti-discrimination omnibus bill is far, far from what transgender and transsexual and gender non-conoforming people need, as civil rights movements go. Nobody is against anti-discrimination bills, especially if they include “gender identity or expression” as part of their protected classes, but it’s too easy for LGB activists to throw that clause in there without a real understanding of what protections for trans folk would look like. Well, let me ask us to reframe these considerations, in this way:
Let’s look at the trans person’s life cycle, from cradle to grave. What might we need to support our lives and experience that cisgender people would never need?
1: Childhood—In part because trans people have been more visible in the last generation, today’s children more often understand themselves as trans and ask the people nearest them (read: their parents and teachers) for support. A public policy for supporting trans kids would do some or all of the following:
- Offer trans-supportive mental health/social work services for trans kids so they have objective partners in their process
- Offer family support through identification of a trans identity (because you know, parents don’t automatically support their trans kids or know how to) into and through transition (if that is what the youth wants)
- Educate school systems, administrations, and teachers to provide a hostility-free learning environment for trans children, including using a child’s chosen name even if that name is not their legal name
- Readily identify trans-related bullying and help trans youth find alternative paths toward a high school degree if their primary school becomes an untenable place to learn
- Ensure that after-school and extracurricular activities are trans-friendly and accessible to trans youth
- Change rules around school sports to ensure than trans children can participate in a way that comports with their gender identity or expression
- Modify existing law around custodian care so that if only one parent is supportive of a trans child, they can still help direct their care and services
- Relax rules around emancipated minor laws for older trans teenagers who may need to leave their parents’ home
- Train crisis care counselors, suicide hotline managers/call centers, and any local government-run mental health care workers in trans issues so that they are culturally competent
- Educate physicians on hormone blockers, hormone therapy for adolescents, and the medical needs of trans youth
- Change laws so that trans-related care is included in health insurance policies
- Train youth homeless shelter staff in trans issues so that they are culturally competent
- Enforce rules changes with a resource/response board to hear complaints and advocate for trans youth
2: Adulthood—Many trans advocates are already agitating for many (if not all) of these things to improve our lives, and they often do their work without the platform of someone like Janet Mock. Frustratingly much of this work has been done on a jurisdiction by jurisdiction basis because, in part, of HRC and its past obstructionism (ENDA, anyone?). But in truth the needs are far more comprehensive than what has been wrangled at the national level. Here’s at least some of what we need:
- Anti-discrimination law at the federal level that includes housing, employment, and education
- Full clarification (we’ve already gotten some but it’s still a gray area) that trans college students are protected under Title IX
- Change federal law to prohibit transgender exceptions in health care insurance coverage; coverage for trans-related health care up to and including trans-related surgeries
- Train first responders, police officers, fire fighters on trans issues so that they are culturally competent
- Require that public spaces be trans-supportive, especially including public restrooms. This can be done in many ways, including creating gender neutral rest rooms or making all restrooms unisex.
- Require that public spaces that have an expectation of nudity (homeless shelters, locker rooms) offer a trans-supportive space or be otherwise open to trans people using them
- Create federal rules for treating trans prisoners with dignity and respect (more about this tomorrow in Part 2)
- Define what constitutes anti-trans harassment, such as intentionally misusing someone’s name or pronouns, so that they have grounds for a grievance or remediation in their situation
- Repeal any law that automatically invalidates a marriage because one of the partners transitions, and stop using transition as a legitimate ground for annulment in court
- Ban transition and gender identity or expression as a justification for a parent to lose custody or visitation of a legal dependent
- Support job training and placement programs for trans young adults and adults
3: Senior Citizens—Give us a few more years and we will hear more stories about what’s wrong with our country’s already inadequate senior support services. Nursing homes, assisted living centers, retirement communities all have a long way to go before they are truly supportive of older trans people who need extra care and can no longer live at home. Here’s my start of a list:
- Require that all care be given in support of the individual’s gender identity or expression
- House trans elders in a manner consistent with their gender identity or expression
- Train all care staff in trans related issues so that they are culturally competent
- Modify probate laws so that unmarried partners may leave estates to each other in the same way that married partners can accept estates/inheritances without going through probate
- Ban transition and gender identity or expression as a single justification for an elder to lose legal competency to handle their own affairs
- Train elder care counselors who are tasked with identifying elder abuse in trans issues so that they are culturally competent
- Train court advocates for the elderly in trans issues so that they are culturally competent
- Support day programs and other elder care initiatives that include trans elders’ needs as part of their curricula
- Support funeral services to comport with the gender identity or expression of the deceased, including their obituary, service, wake, and directed donation campaigns
Tomorrow I’ll list what I and others see as the needs of trans people who are in specific circumstances and who may be even more vulnerable because of those circumstances. Again, these are needs that I don’t see taken up by HRC even in its latest round of “we care, we really care” communication. And please, feel free to add to my lists if I have left anything out. Because of course I have.