Tag Archives: LGBT civil rights

Orlando United Vigil in Walla Walla, June 15, 2016

This is the transcript of my piece said during the vigil.

IMG_1969I’m sorry. I’m sorry that 47 years since the Stonewall Inn riots, 43 years since being gay was no longer listed as a mental disorder, and 13 years since the Supreme Court decriminalized being gay, that this tragedy at The Pulse nightclub in Orlando has occurred. I’m sorry that in the many years since Brandon Teena’s murder and Matthew Shepard’s murder and since Tyra Hunter was refused life-saving medical care, we are here tonight, mourning the loss of so many good people. I’m sorry because I thought that after the AIDS crisis where tens of thousands of gay men passed away while our leaders made inappropriate jokes, that we were moving through the worst of this hatred for us. I thought that the quiet anti-discrimination legislation enacted by more than twenty states, and that seeing marriage equality become the law of the land meant we were entering an era of acceptance. I thought my generation would be the last to face disparate levels of depression, suicide, unemployment, and harassment.

I was wrong. I am sorry.

I stand here tonight shocked—again—at how easy it seems to take away dozens of lives in the manner of a few minutes to a few hours. I stand here, wondering which of the hateful things I’ve heard over the past two decades may have lead to this moment. Was it the refusal by extremists to sign marriage licenses for gay and lesbian couples? Was it the preacher who interprets scripture to mean that killing LGBT people is a holy mission? Was it the lawyer who argues that discriminating against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people is simply an act of religious freedom? Was it the national organization that insists transgender people in bathrooms are a danger to the public and to our children? Was it the candidate who called immigrants rapists and refugees a threat to national security?

I am angry and inconsolable that people who expected they could be themselves in the confine of a nightclub, traditionally a space where LGBT people could find temporary sanctuary, died there. And yet we see triumph even in that hell—the mother who, dancing with her gay son, saved his life with a final gift by blocking bullets with her body. The Indian American former marine who helped 70 people survive by breaking open an exit door. The young Latino man who used a bandana to staunch a neck wound of his friend. Stories will continue to emerge about our strength in the midst of tremendous pain, and this is how I understand our collective journey.

All of us are stronger than hate. All of us are more resilient than a lobbying organization. We reject the false narrative of abomination and perversion and we embrace our pride, our community, and our shared journey.

We are determined. We insist on ending garbage pronouncements about what LGBT lives mean for our society or our morality. We are determined to make this world better for our youth. To our youngest LGBT members: your elders and your allies sincerely care about you. We see you and we know there is a lot of chaos and pain that comes your way. We are here for you, just as we are here to honor the people we have lost. We will find our way together, in solidarity. Peace to you all.

Vote NO on Initiative 1515!

Quick Thoughts Regarding Our Political Morass, or Why the HRC Needs to Get into the Anti-Trans Legal Fight

1: It seems anathema to a supposed democracy that the death of one conservative should shift our nation’s highest court toward such a more liberal position. The consequences of the court’s rulings have such far-reaching effects it terrifies me a little that out of 300-plus million people in the US, the seating or not of a single jurist should make that much of a difference. Of course there’s a much larger judicial system underneath this court, and I understand that the rule of law has been designed with a final decision point of a supreme court, but given what it debates—civil rights, reproductive freedom, our basic rights to assemble and speak—Scalia’s presence or absence to tip the balance on these critical points is frightening. And so on this level I can understand the Republican Party’s fear that the court will liberalize away from their priorities. They should be afraid, as Scalia was holding together their agenda for the entire judiciary and it is not as easily rigged as say, their games with voter suppression and gerrymandering.

Sir Lady Java holding a sign that reads, 2: We are so acclimated to fear tactics in general that it is simple to deploy them against transgender children and young people. In what other context could we watch grown men scream about the safety of women as if they are their priority and rant about the dangers posed to public safety from children themselves? The entire game would be exposed were it not for the hatred America holds toward trans women, gender nonconforming people, and queer people. And still I see this as a last gasp from the right to reassert control in a country where more and more areas have affirmatively voted in LGBT protections. They won’t give up without a fight, but trans people will ultimately prevail.

2a: However, the battle over trans bodies is certain to enact violence against gender nonconforming people who are more on the margins, like trans women of color, trans folks who live in poverty, trans elders, and trans youth, especially those dealing with primary and secondary education systems, where there is a judicial precedent for certain infringements into privacy and speech. There is a good reason why the spate of hateful anti-trans legislation targets students, because they are subject to things like locker searches without a warrant, to controls like detention and suspension, and they are under constant surveillance from adults who can easily control things like bathroom access.

2b: This is why I think the Human Rights Campaign needs to step up and take head-on the anti-trans hate wave. It sounds unreasonable at first, but think about it: they’ve already designed themselves to identify issues within the court system across the country, they’ve already amassed a team of lawyers who know how to write amicus briefs in their sleep, and they have just “completed” a decade-plus-long struggle to win marriage equality in the United States. They won. THEY WON. I and many people of my queer generation never thought we’d see legal same sex marriage, and yet, here it is, despite Justice Scalia’s protestations and rhetoric, no less. Further, the HRC owes transgender people a debt after their earlier resistance to including the trans community in the LGBT equal rights bill in Congress, a bill that has still not come back to debate in any meaningful way. HRC has the deep pockets to fund the push against anti-trans legislation, the knowledge of the adversaries, since they’re largely the same groups who funded the anti-equality marriage fight, and the national contacts. They ought to take this on, and they have to get rallied quickly because it won’t be that long before a number of states have bills, referenda, and laws to contend with as part of the general election. And yes, they need to get trans women and gender nonconforming people involved, at all tiers of their leadership.

3: We are losing al-Jazeera America and that is a shame because they took pains not to be an echo chamber for a major political party, and not to be as devoid of substance as say, CNN. Too many of our media outlets are slanted toward one or the other political pole, and this has become a real problem for understanding what is happening in this primary election cycle. We’ve walked away from the journalistic standards that structured how facts were identified apart from opinion for nearly a century, in deference to ratings and the constant stream of sound bites. Paris is bombed and the media vomits speculation as news. Trump says something ridiculous and reporters feed it to us as if it is anything other than garbage—it certainly isn’t presidential. Web sites pretending to be media outlets Photoshop pictures and reports about coin tosses and it takes an entire news cycle to parse the reality out of the fantasy. I’m not telling the kids to get off my lawn, but we need a reckoning here because our current international conglomerate owned news food chain is full of pulp and no substance, and it is hard enough figuring out what the consequences of each Representative seat’s election could mean for their constituents. We need a consumer-driven change to the industry.

 

 

We’re Talking About All of the Wrong Things

cartoon of calvin from calvin and hobbes arguing with a playmateWhen I was a teenager, I was impressed that my father read the newspaper every morning, listened to NPR in his car, and watched the evening news every night. He told me that keeping up on current events wasn’t just an interest but his civic duty. He didn’t use those words, but look, it was a long time ago and I’m left with just the takeaway if not the precise quote. Now my dad was born in 1928, a child through the Great Depression, and one year shy of getting to enlist and fight in World War II (he lied about his age and went to work as a postal carrier instead, and they were willing to take him because they needed people). Duty and attachment to our neighbors has certainly shifted from then until today, and barely anyone reads a newspaper anymore. Our media outlets have grown, merged, super-merged, and drifted from the journalistic standards once popularized by people like Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite. For example, Fox News broadcasts verifiably true stories only twenty-two percent of the time. Rachel Maddow is better, but not much, at thirty-eight percent.

But in addition to the truthiness of mainstream news outlets, we have a problem with how subjects and topics are framed. Take the recent letter by forty-seven Republican Senators to Iran’s leadership, suggesting that their ongoing negotiations with the United States (and several other countries) won’t be worth the paper it’s eventually signed on. The debate frame is set up around whether these Senators are traitors or patriots, whether they should be recalled or heralded. Clearly they’re not traitors, as they didn’t call for the overthrow of the United States, didn’t send classified information to a foreign government for same effect, and didn’t attack the United States. (They didn’t even violate the Logan Act, but that’s another issue.) Read More…

How HRC Is Botching Its Apology to Trans People (Part 2)

feat-hrc-clickIn Part 1 I outlined the HRC President’s apology to trans activists at the annual Southern Comfort conference, suggesting that looking at the entirety of trans lives would provide a better starting point for getting behind trans civil rights than staying the HRC course of a new, albeit now-trans-inclusive, ENDA bill. Beyond the general, “what do children, adults, and elders need in the way of trans rights” question, there are critical services and support systems that more vulnerable trans people also need and often don’t get, in part because they’re trans, and in part because they may have other overlapping statuses that limit their access to those services. Specifically, I am talking about trans prisoners, transgender people with moderate to severe mental illness, drug addiction, and trans sex workers. So today I’ll outline my ideas around what these vulnerable groups need that in large part, they are not getting from our society and its infrastructure. And if HRC would like to fund the programs that are in place across the nation, well, that money could make a real difference.

Trans Prisoners—Intersecting transphobia with societal hostility toward people convicted of a crime, transgender prisoners are especially vulnerable to abuse in the criminal justice system, from the earliest stages of a police investigation, through the pre-trial process, trial, sentencing, and throughout their term in the prison system. Data are incomplete but suggest that transgender prisoners are more often placed in solitary confinement, both as punishment and due to the dearth of alternatives for housing them while they serve their terms. Further, while no studies or analyses have been conducted regarding whether transgender people accused of a crime are treated fairly in the initial stages of an investigation, the CeCe McDonald case certainly highlights that extreme injustice can and does occur, and is very difficult to remediate through the criminal justice system itself. Trans people in prison are much more often than not denied hormone therapy or other trans-related health or mental health care. Organizations like the Transgender Law Center, Lambda Legal, and transgender prisoner advocacy groups are relatively underfunded and already working on these issues and could use a significant funding boost. Read More…

How HRC Is Botching Its Apology to Trans People (Part 1)

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: ChildhoodIn 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

Read More…

Misinterpretation vs. Post Liberal Disingenuousness

Everyone is finally talking about J. Jack Halberstam, but it’s not because he broke out the coup of academese or wrote a readable deconstruction of language, politics, and identity. Instead, Halberstam waded into the very tired “tranny” debate, and along the way, managed to become the next Dan Savage, Tosh.0, Seth MacFarlane of the LGBT universe. Like a ball of sticky goo (sticky goo being oh so funny, don’t you know), he picked up along the way a raging misreading of lesbian political history, a misunderstanding of stated boundaries, a misappropriation of assault survivor’s lexicon, and a misarticulation of gender performance.

Halberstam, in his piece, basically starts off bemoaning how nobody understands (the Spanish Inquisition) Monty Python anymore, and then delves right into his own lesbian angsty memory:

I remember coming out in the 1970s and 1980s into a world of cultural feminism and lesbian separatism. Hardly an event would go by back then without someone feeling violated, hurt, traumatized by someone’s poorly phrased question, another person’s bad word choice or even just the hint of perfume in the room. People with various kinds of fatigue, easily activated allergies, poorly managed trauma were constantly holding up proceedings to shout in loud voices about how bad they felt because someone had said, smoked, or sprayed something near them that had fouled up their breathing room. Others made adjustments, curbed their use of deodorant, tried to avoid patriarchal language, thought before they spoke, held each other, cried, moped, and ultimately disintegrated into a messy, unappealing morass of weepy, hypo-allergic, psychosomatic, anti-sex, anti-fun, anti-porn, pro-drama, pro-processing post-political subjects.

Here are my issues with this paragraph:

  1. I would expect an academic to understand his or her own experience in a political movement as exactly that, one data point. One experience. Extrapolating from one data point? Not an intellectual engagement.
  2. This completely misses the point that in the 1970s and 1980s (and 1990s, let’s get real) lesbians who came together to build a new community often did so under duress, sans love of family, against a culture that was much more weaponized against them than we see in 2014. There were a lot of things to cry about, a lot of broken people trying to make their way through the world with few resources. A lot of women lost their jobs expressly for being gay, and they had no recourse. The closet was a different beast. AIDS was claiming lives and lesbians were often on the front lines. So some of them finally felt that with their energy and input they were creating a space from which they could speak up about their needs (colognes do actually cause allergies), fighting one’s parents and siblings does leave one fatigued, but thanks, Dr. Halberstam, for asserting that these people who thought they were your comrades were messy and unappealing.
  3. This is really ableist. Though according to Halberstam’s critique there’s no room to claim that ableism is bad. I’m just a bad neo-liberal, right?
  4. Camille Paglia better look out because Halberstam’s paragraph reads like it was stolen out of her next manuscript.

Halberstam’s next paragraph pulls out two threads in the 1990s:

Political times change and as the 1980s gave way to the 1990s, as weepy white lady feminism gave way to reveal a multi-racial, poststructuralist, intersectional feminism of much longer provenance, people began to laugh, loosened up, people got over themselves and began to talk and recognize that the enemy was not among us but embedded within new, rapacious economic systems. Needless to say, for women of color feminisms, the stakes have always been higher and identity politics always have played out differently. But, in the 1990s, books on neoliberalism, postmodernism, gender performativity and racial capital turned the focus away from the wounded self and we found our enemies and, as we spoke out and observed that neoliberal forms of capitalism were covering over economic exploitation with language of freedom and liberation, it seemed as if we had given up wounded selves for new formulations of multitudes, collectivities, collaborations, and projects less centered upon individuals and their woes. Of course, I am flattening out all kinds of historical and cultural variations within multiple histories of feminism, queerness and social movements. But I am willing to do so in order to make a point here about the re-emergence of a rhetoric of harm and trauma that casts all social difference in terms of hurt feelings and that divides up politically allied subjects into hierarchies of woundedness.

Look, is there a limit to liberal feminism? Yes. Was it too easily fraught with the kind of “Lean In” thinking that furthers capitalism on the backs of more marginalized (read: of color) women? Absolutely. But why is it framed in terms of humor? You know who talks about women who need to “loosen up?” Sexist men, that’s who. “Loosen up,” the very phrase has been used since at least the last mid-century to dismiss women’s needs and boundaries. It doesn’t shock me in the slightest that Halberstam uses it here because he’s making the very same move. Your right to a perfume-free environment is bunk. Your claim that you are hurt is bogus. Loosen up and you’ll see that things won’t bother you as much. This is as clearly an anti-intellectual engagement around women’s boundaries as one can make.

Should we examine institutions for their role in perpetuating oppression differentially across race, class, gender, and other intersections of power? Yes! But can we take a step back and remember that we all have a lived experience inside of these institutions and forces and that people are situated in different places in culture? Sometimes their situatedness means that they experience a lot of pain and understand that pain as emotionally exhausting. Sometimes they find themselves the survivors of violence and those moments radicalize them such that they begin to make new inquiries into the world around them. Locating ourselves within this postcolonial/neocolonial world is an honest means of making revolutionary critique, it does not take away from it. And if we are lucky enough to have escaped “harm and trauma” then a critique with integrity would identify that as a site of privilege. Which means that when Halberstam is calling a “rhetoric of harm and trauma” problematic in that it is divisive, Halberstam is bing a privileged individual telling those with a different history that they need to be silent.

It is in this way that I read Halberstam’s piece as silencing, as not in solidarity with people who have made requests of us, the other people on the broad Left who have said at one point or another that we are all in this together. And when I get to that interpretation of Halberstam, the rest of his piece makes sense, in an internal consistency sort of way. It is actually antithetical to an emancipatory politic. Here is why.

Much of the recent discourse of offense and harm has focused on language, slang and naming. For example, controversies erupted in the last few months over the name of a longstanding nightclub in San Francisco: “Trannyshack,” and arguments ensued about whether the word “tranny” should ever be used. These debates led some people to distraction, and legendary queer performer, Justin Vivian Bond, posted an open letter on her Facebook page telling readers and fans in no uncertain terms that she is “angered by this trifling bullshit.” Bond reminded readers that many people are “delighted to be trannies” and not delighted to be shamed into silence by the “word police.” Bond and others have also referred to the queer custom of re-appropriating terms of abuse and turning them into affectionate terms of endearment. When we obliterate terms like “tranny” in the quest for respectability and assimilation, we actually feed back into the very ideologies that produce the homo and trans phobia in the first place!

It’s not surprising that Halberstam glosses over what “these debates” are about—because he misses their point entirely. The history here is that some trans women, most of them under 30 and representing a younger generation of trans women, have said for at least the last decade, that they want everyone in the LGBT umbrella (because we’re a political coalition, at least in the eyes of the Family Research Council), to stop using the word “tranny.” For them, they’ve stated plainly, the word has been used against them during violent attacks, during personal attacks, in the act of refusing trans women housing, employment, and education. It’s been deployed to alienate them, disempower them, and yes, kill them. To not even bring to light WHY trans women have asked us to stop using the term is to once again dismiss the request. I’ve heard all sorts of defenses for continued use of the T-word, from loyalty, a sense of nostalgia (usually among gay men), a pseudo-academic argument for free speech (which even SCOTUS understands as different from hate speech), and some misguided sense of entitlement (you can’t tell me what to say!). But I’ve never seen anyone make the case, until Bond’s and Halberstam’s essays, that getting rid of the word would perpetuate transphobia.

And that idea, frankly, is preposterous. It would mean that mainstream (read: non-LGBT) individuals would come across the word and think, wow, I love transgender people. Look how cool Justin Vivian Bond is! Check out that Ru Paul! If they say it, I can say it, and it will mean I love trans women everywhere. It would mean that in the greater context of people bashing trans women and using the very same word that it’s the moment of drag frivolity (or what Halberstam would say is humor) that would transcend as the stronger signified, such that what, eventually if we just scream “tranny” often enough nobody will think of using it against trans women anymore?

No. I say no. Not only is this implausible, it means withholding material reality that trans women of color are the single most abused group in the FBI’s hate crime statistics. It would mean making invisible serious, authentic requests that women have made in order to keep a fucking word in the community. It would mean that there is no linkage between an epithet and a bigoted attitude toward a group. It means nothing less than the justification, rhetorically, of demeaning trans women in a larger community that has already demoted their political, social, sexual, and economic needs and that still will call up a sister and ask her to sit on the Pride planning committee so it can have a token trans woman in the room. It is nothing more than the lazy, anti-intellectual side-talking history that has worked against real change for LGBT people since we came together as a community during the Stonewall riots. During which transgender people and gay men fought side by side, by the way.

Saying that requests not to use a pejorative term or to put a “trigger warning” on a text of some kind are the kind of neo-liberal mushy (sorry, “messy, disintegrating”) inquiries that are limiting the movement is to erase the reality that for many people under the LGBT umbrella, we are broken and hurting and looking for support. Is it funny and humorous? No. Should a political movement use humor as one of its methods for liberation of its people? Sure, but Halberstam is making fun of ourselves, and the target ought to be those systems of oppression Halberstam says we should be focusing on.

All Halberstam’s piece does is give more life to a debate that is taking time and energy away from the real work we need to do. If a sexual assault survivor asks to be told up front if the content she’s about to see is violent, it is no skin off of Halberstam’s nose to tell her. Just as it is no loss to let the T-word fall to the way side, the way we have let many, many other words do in the last forty years. That Halberstam would pen this piece and offer nothing else for trans women in coalition with LGB interests, political, artistic, or other, tells me that he’s not really interested in trans women’s interests. And that is the sign of a disingenuous argument.

Of course we have made strides in the last two generations. That’s the point! It’s not the fault of younger trans people that they have come into a world that has the slightest grasp of what transgender identity is or can be. And even if an individual trans youth comes into a slightly more understanding culture, it doesn’t mean they face a more supportive immediate climate. Forty percent of homeless youth are LGBT, according to a recent survey. An unimaginably high percentage of trans people have attempted suicide. Saying:

These younger folks, with their gay-straight alliances, their supportive parents and their new right to marry regularly issue calls for “safe space.”

is as disingenuous as it gets. Not only should we be proud that the culture in the rightward-moving US has gay-straight alliances in some areas, we should not use it to dismiss requests for safer space. I may agree that there is no such thing as a safe space, and I may agree that left-wing policing can be used against in-community people to their detriment, but the problem isn’t in the call for safe space, and it’s certainly not the case that we ought to curtail any space that is more supportive than in decades past. This is just nonsensical. And I don’t see, once again, a good argument made here around gentrification. (For that, turn to Samuel Delany and Sarah Schulman.)

Halberstam then makes a leap from trigger warnings and the T-word and safe space to this:

…as LGBT communities make “safety” into a top priority (and that during an era of militaristic investment in security regimes) and ground their quest for safety in competitive narratives about trauma, the fight against aggressive new forms of exploitation, global capitalism and corrupt political systems falls by the way side.

Actually, no. Some segments of the community have set boundaries around specific issues of sexual violence, violence, and individual terms, and some segments of the community have tried to open a dialogue about safety. Our safety is of paramount concern to our political agenda (the one that deals with institutions and stuff, remember). In the past week I’ve seen at least four articles about Black trans women murdered, missing, or attacked. If we can’t talk about safety being a top priority, we’re pretty safe, in all probability. If we can’t talk about intersectionality because we’re afraid someone will claim we’re starting an oppression Olympics, then we can’t talk for very long. And if we’re concerned about policing, then what the hell is Jack Halberstam doing in this piece? Because it reads like a ship ton of policing to me.

Requiem for Journalistic Integrity

Last week, Grantland.com, which is ultimately controlled by ESPN, ran a story ostensibly about a well designed golf putter and its inventor. The actual story was about much more, namely the counterfeit credentials of the inventor, Dr. Essay Anne Vanderbilt, which led the author of the piece, Caleb Hannan to discover that she had a transgender history. The very beginning of the piece frames the tone, as Mr. Hannan writes:

Strange stories can find you at strange times.

He remarks that in his early investigation about her revolutionary putter design, he couldn’t find any photos or videos of her on the Internet. Because of course women should be plastered all over the Web, but no matter. He digs. He’s an earnest, unknown journalist (so new, he’s never heard of the word “communique”). But I get it. Mr. Hannan finds out that actually, “Dr. V.” didn’t earn a doctorate at MIT, and actually, she didn’t exist on paper before 2000. And then, after he’s told us how brazen she was to get her club design past the world’s top club maker, he tells us that when he tried to contact her, she was obfuscatory; please focus your piece only on the design and not me. The author goes on to describe her in turn as quirky, with a strange vocabulary, a history that was both colorful and absent, and an extremely tall physical frame. Mr. Hannan may not have known it as he was researching this story or writing it, but the piece screams transphobia in its insistence on and obsession with her differences from his expectations for women. He wants them knowable, archived, ordinary, and visible. Dr. V. is none of those things, and so he persists in his probe. Read More…

Representative Misunderestimation

Barrett Pryce, Mike Hewitt's legislative aideWalla Walla’s Washington State Senator, Mike Hewitt, is not known in progressive circles for being a friend to the queers. Trans people aren’t even on his radar. His office caused a ruckus in the blogosphere (a.k.a. The Huffington Post in this case) when some as-yet-unnamed staffer told an angry caller that gays should “grow their own food” if, under his co-sponsored bill, any business owner decided to deny service to LGBT people because of “a sincerely held belief.” The “grow their own food” was apparently an option if any LGBT person living in a rural area with few grocery stores (as is actually the case in large swaths of Washington State) was denied as a customer by store owners.

Of course this was an angry caller from Seattle, not Hewitt’s district. Of course this was a stupid off-the-cuff remark from the staff member, not the Senator himself. And to further contextualize things, this Senate Bill 5927 is in response to a florist from a nearby city who refused to serve a couple looking to get gay married. She is now being sued. But that’s the point of anti-discrimination statutes. A florist is not a church. And flowers seem unimportant–as in, they’re not food–but even small moments of ignorance and bigotry cast wide ripples. For SB 5927 doesn’t limit lawsuits, it opens the floodgates for any individual with a product or service to refuse access, solely on the basis of dislike. It’s a total negation of including sexual orientation as a protected category in the state, setting up a hierarchy of communities based on which ones have unstoppered protection and which ones fall under this proposed law’s exception.

Certainly this isn’t the first time some sort of “philosophical” exception has made its way into the laws of the land. Extreme right-wing organizations actively recruit close-minded people into medicine and pharmacy now in order to have more “soldiers” on the front lines of the battle over reproductive rights in order to use their “sincerely held beliefs” to say they won’t supply Plan B to women, or offer pregnancy termination when it’s requested (or hey, needed). There is now so much room around these moral objections that the very notion that any of us in the general public finds these exceptions problematic is itself an assault on religious freedom. Read More…

Illegal Urination

Arizona, the state that brought us a ban on Ethnic Studies and some of the most extreme anti-immigrant laws in the nation, now has crafted a bill that would make using the “wrong” restroom–read, one that does not comport with the letter on one’s birth certificate–a misdemeanor, punishable by a multi-thousand dollar fine and up to six months in jail. The language in the bill reads almost opposite as the non-discriminatory language found in jursidictions around the country that protect trans-identified and gender nonconforming people from harassment when accessing public facilities:

All entities covered under the Act, as amended, shall allow individuals the right to use gender-specific restrooms and other gender-specific facilities such as dressing rooms, homeless shelters, and group homes that are consistent with their gender identity or expression (Washington, DC Office of Human Rights, District of Columbia Municipal Regulations (DCMR) entitled “Compliance Rules and Regulations Regarding Gender Identity or Expression.” Title 4, Chapter 8, amended October 26, 2006)

Instead, Arizona’s proposed language requires people to use the bathroom that comports with the sex marker on their birth certificate. This is troubling for many reasons, including in no particular order:

  1. Arizona has no legislative control over other states’ departments of vital statistics, the organizations that generally are in charge of granting and validating birth and death certificates. Some states, like New Jersey, grant new birth certificates with a letter of sex-reassignment surgery, while others only amend previously created birth certificates. It’s unclear if this proposed law would “accept” such amendments over the original certificate. And then some states, like Ohio, never amend or re-release birth certificates for any reason. So any trans individual from Ohio needing to urinate in Arizona should what, cross the state line first? Ask a kind neighbor for use of their private bathroom? Read More…

Breaking the LGBT Debate Rut

I remember the 1990s well–ATMs were a novelty, all the cool kids had neon-colored pagers, and Friday nights were spent playing an X-Files drinking game.* 1992, the year I graduated college, was an election year, and there were all kinds of debates within and about the queer community, some of which made the mainstream news–also known as “the evening news.” Which was watched on television, not on the Internet.

1993 March on Washington for gay rightsThese debates included:

  • Whether bisexuals should be included in the umbrella of “queer”
  • Whether we should try to reclaim the term, “queer”
  • Whether gays should be able to marry
  • Whether queer civil rights should be about liberation or assimilation
  • How best to advocate for more/better access to health care (mostly in light of the AIDS crisis)
  • Whether lesbians should date bisexuals, and what that would mean about their lesbianism
  • Whether gay men occupied too much of the priority list at the top of LGB civil rights
  • Whether butch/femme or androgyny should be the preferred goal for lesbians

Twenty-one years later, we haven’t moved far from these debates, if at all.  Read More…

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