Tag Archives: LGBT civil rights

The Name Game, or, Why Judges Matter

blind justiceUPDATE: There is now a petition to remove this jurist from office.

A regional newspaper from Oklahoma reported this weekend that District Court Judge Bill Graves repeatedly denies legal name change requests from transgender people when their cases are assigned to him. But let me take a step back and provide a little context for why I’d pluck this one sad story out of the bin, and why this matters to transpeople and all of us.

Several hurdles stand in the way of any individual’s transition; in addition to the social shifts involved in telling one’s friends, coworkers and family about their gender identity, and on top of navigating the health care and mental health industries to make one’s chosen medical changes, there is also the myriad of legal rules and guidelines to manage. Making the legal changes even more complex for transfolk, most of the laws that transect gender identity weren’t designed for this purpose, leaving us to cobble together a paperwork patchwork to get what we need in the way of identity documents and necessary legal guidance (like wills or power of attorney). And just to throw another monkey wrench into the mix, consider that the requirements for obtaining new identity papers or altering old ones are different not only from state to state, but sometimes from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. For example, some states will grant a new birth certificate with no notation on the form that there has been any change from the original name or sex marker, other states will show that the certificate has been amended, and some states, like Ohio, forbid any changes to their issued birth certificates, no matter the reason.  Read More…

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The Problem with Passing Privilege

trans logo/iconI had a great blog post almost ready to launch earlier today, really I did. It was about moving my office from one location to another clear across town, and who thinks what about it, what went wrong during the move, ending with why all of this is funny.

And then WordPress ate it. No matter how much I cursed WordPress,  I still was faced with a big blog of empty white space where once tiny words had lived. Sure, I could rewrite that post, as I’ve done before, only this blog post has decided to pop up in its place.

Instead of a trite chucklefest about who inhabits office buildings, what moving is like for a small nonprofit, and how hilarious (and nice) Walla Wallans can be in the midst of mini-crises, I’m going to write about passing privilege. I’m certainly not going for a laugh, but if you feel like having one, feel free to click on the keyword “funny” to the right and read any number of humorous experiences I’ve had. The ones where I’m in intestinal distress are the best, in my opinion.

On to the actual post. Read More…

What the CeCe McDonald Sentencing Says to Me

Leslie and CeCeTurns out, the 41-month sentence that CeCe McDonald plead to this spring, at the dawn of her trial for second degree manslaughter in Minneapolis, was in fact her sentence today. That’s 3-and-a-half years or so, apparently because she pulled scissors out from her purse, while running away from an attacker, and held them in front of her while he fell against her. In his words to Ms. McDonald at her plea bargain, Judge Daniel Moreno stated that in introducing scissors into the altercation–which was not the first weapon brought into play, as she’d already been lacerated with a broken beer mug–“You realize. . . you endangered other lives.”

This is the kind of twist in logic that turns the criminal justice system into a sick Mobius strip where people on the margins can’t win. In an interview with PrettyQueer.com last month, Dean Spade remarked that once she came into contact with this system, the options for justice for CeCe McDonald were extremely limited or altogether absent. That the police looked at this case and made an arrest of Ms. McDonald over and against arresting the woman who sparked the attack in the first place, Molly Flaherty (who was finally arrested last month) is testament to the inadequacy of hate crimes law and the derangement of criminal investigative process. And we thought it was all like CSI. Read More…

Across the Continent in 5 Days

National AirportI’ve got one hour until boarding time for my flight to Chicago. Flying in and out of O’Hare is always a little nerve-wracking because it’s an airport that can kick you in the teeth if you haven’t planned well or aren’t on the top of your game. I shushed my friend Barbara when she assured me everything would go well today, because I hate tempting fate. Excuse me, I mean Fate. With a capitol F.

I might as well admit to my other big airplane flying superstition: I hold my feet off the floor when we land so I can have good luck for the next flight. I guess I can’t call it “paying it forward” if it’s for my own benefit, but I will point out here I’m not completely selfish because supposedly all the other people on the flight with me would receive my good fortune as well. And I know I’m being completely ridiculous, but the little kid me heard my grandpa tell me to do it when crossing railroad tracks and landing in a plane, and now I can’t shake it for planes. I keep my feet where they are when going over tracks because 1: it makes it too hard to keep driving if I lift them up, and 2: Walla Walla has a ton of railroad crossings in and around town.

This has been a great trip, save my pangs of missingness for the wee one and Susanne. She’s been kind enough to send me pictures of him throughout the day with a video here and there so I can listen to him babble. And thank modern technology for FaceTime on the iPhone–he smiles at me across 3,000 miles and my heart leaps just as hard as when we’re together. Read More…

DC Trans Pride 2012 Keynote Address

Humor and Civil Rights

Keynote Address to 2012 DC Trans Pride

Everett Maroon

Two great tastes that go great together –Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups marketing staff.

Folks who teach about public speaking often say that you need to relay your main message to the audience three times—you tell them what you’re going to tell them, you tell them, and then you tell them what you told them. This ties in nicely to comedy writing, because threes are often the standard set up for jokes. Creative writing instructors, on the other hand, insist on a minimum of telling and a maximum of showing, usually through dialogue and character interaction. Perhaps a keynote address isn’t exactly creative writing, but old habits die hard, so I’ll try to do my telling via showing, and I’ll do it at least three times so I keep all of the public speaker people I know happy. You don’t want to piss off the Toastmasters, trust me.

So I’m going to talk about humor and civil rights in our movement. I will, after this introduction, explain what every thing in that sentence means. Well, let me define humor, civil rights, and our, right now.  By “humor,” I mean something that makes us laugh. By “our,” I mean the transsexual/transgender/trans-asterisk/genderqueer/gender non-conforming bunch of us. And by “civil rights,” I mean all the stuff that we deserve and don’t currently have, and yes, after this intro—this is still the introduction—I’ll list out what those things are, but I probably won’t exhaust everything that should be on the list because as we’ll see, I have but one perspective to bring to the movement, and as you’ll see by way of some lovely anecdotes, we need as many voices as we can scrabble together. Along the way I’ll read a few stories to satisfy the minimal showing requirement of this talk, and then I’ll finish with a self-deprecating comment to tell you what I told you. You’ll applaud, possibly because the words I strung together today were helpful and/or amusing, but more likely because I traveled more than 3,000 miles to get here and you feel pity for me that this is all I came up with in the way of a keynote. But let me thank you in advance for your excellent manners. Read More…

Where Do We Go from Here? More Thoughts on CeCe McDonald’s Case

me holding the first DCTC banner on DCNow that I’ve settled down from most of my anger (trust me, there’s a lot still in here because her situation is so completely unjust), several other thoughts about what we can do as a community of gender non-conforming people have occurred to me. To paraphrase Leslie Feinberg from earlier this week, it is outstanding to see so many of us organized to support CeCe even against such massive institutions like criminal jurisprudence and the prison complex. For years now I’ve seen a small but growing voice articulating its concern about the annual Day of Remembrance–and it asks how we can come together to do proactive work in addition to mourning the violent losses of trans women and other trans-identified people. While we are outraged about CeCe’s forced “choice” to take a plea deal, we should also acknowledge that we’ve shown some measure of grassroots-created power against these corrupt systems. With collective power in mind, I humbly offer the following:

1. In your local community, organize a letter writing campaign for CeCe. Yes, people are writing letters to her now en masse. At some point in the next weeks or months, these will slow down to more of a trickle, in all likelihood. So schedule the letters among your group, so she is receiving mail not just this May but when autumn is approaching, through the holiday season, and at the anniversaries of her trial and sentencing. If we say we won’t forget CeCe, let’s set ourselves up for success on that promise. Next week I’m going to visit an LGBT youth group and I’ll bring along 50 blank cards and stamps. And markers. Dang, I love markers. Black and Pink has a list of LGBT prisoners who would love to have pen pals! Read More…

The Bigots Are Winning

I know there’s a space between us, sometimes in the realm of sliver, and other times a reaching chasm, but it persists no matter its degree in any one moment. You have questions for me, even if you read my memoir which attempted to answer most of them. Or maybe it feels like fascination because changing your gender is “just” something you can’t get your head around.

I admit it: on a day like today, I don’t care if you can’t find a way to understand my identity, or life, or choices. On a day like today I’m enraged.

Forget rose-colored glasses. I’m wearing goggles of red, and I’ve glued them to my face.

CeCe McDonald took a plea today–41 months in prison for stabbing a drugged up, Neo-Nazi with a documented history of violence, who was chasing her down the street after she’d been assaulted by him and several of his friends. During her statement to change her plea, in which she had to recount the events of that night in June, the judge explained condescendingly how it was unlawful of her to endanger the life of her attacker.

Now there’s a concept I have trouble understanding. I fail to comprehend what the legal course of action would have been.

Bumbling into Body Hair is dedicated to two people–a young trans man I’ve mentored and Tyra Hunter, a trans woman of color who was hit by a car in DC in 1995. When the EMTs arrived on the scene, they tended to her until they realized she was a preoperative transsexual. And then they laughed at her and made jokes instead of delivering care. She died at the scene.

What has society learned since Tyra’s death? What do we do differently?

Just this week a trans woman was cited and fined for using the women’s room. Certainly peeing in the street would have also been illegal. What are her options? I have been chased out of rest rooms (men’s and women’s), yelled at, and instructed not to use them. How? I can’t will away my bladder.

Why are we okay with making transsexual people illegal? Why is this so-called Christian nation so at ease with its incessant judgment about so many people? Do I blame the Puritans? Fox News? Grover Norquist? Planned Parenthood’s eugenics roots? I can’t shake my fists in enough places.

I’m tired of being agreeable, of playing the diplomat. I’m on my reserve tank of patience for this completely unhelpful argument between transsexual separatists and people who use “transgender” as an umbrella term for all gender non-conforming people. While we squabble with each other, CeCe sits in jail for defending her very existence. Does it matter to her trial or sentence how she personally identifies? Is the injustice she faces any more palatable if she calls herself one label or another?

The bigots are winning. Our representatives argue on Capitol Hill about who should receive tax cuts and which programs for poor people they should eliminate next. And our progressive front in those hallowed halls lets those conversations continue. When Republicans take to the opinion pages to say that they themselves are the problem for the bad sentiment and gridlock in Congress, I take notice.

Billionaires feel entitled to expand their already overwhelming fortunes, in the nastiest ways possible, to boot–Koch brothers destroy unions, multi-state lobbying groups like ALEC (funded in large part from those brothers) go after voting rights and public safety regulations; rich people behind NOM spend money across the country to fuel homophobia in the guise of “protecting” marriage. And the conversation about reproductive rights has spiraled down into anger at any woman who for any reason even wants to take the Pill.

It’s not surprising to me that such rampant misogyny against nontrans women includes more misogyny against trans women. But there are other intersections of hate at play that we haven’t even begun to unpack, and judging from the Tyra Hunter and CeCe McDonald cases (not to mention the scores of other people I could mention), those intersections have dire, disastrous consequences. We are so far past the point where we need to be pushing back against these hate mongers.

I do not believe that all conversations are equal. The pro-choice and anti-choice sides are not equal. The pro-gay marriage and anti-gay marriage sides are not equal. Pushing to extend civil rights and pushing to withhold them are not equal and opposing standards. Positions have substance, and substantively, positions have material effects. We can downplay them all we want, but they persist and contribute to a national mean-spiritedness, even within our own LGBT ranks.

I do not believe that Dan Savage should have a soap box he can stand on where he gets to call Bible-thumpers “pansy asses,” and tells people that it’s the blacks who brought about Prop 8 in California when he knows it not to be true, and tells people that the very conservative Attorney General in Washington State is really a female-to-male transsexual, and OMG that’s a reason for removing him from office. We must demand principled leadership of a civil rights agenda that is not geared for assimilating us into the institutions that hate us. We must look for coalitions with our sisters and brothers in other marginalized communities—for they also have queer and trans individuals, and we as LGBT people are diverse in every way possible.

I want to ask where we go from here, how we can best help CeCe, how we respond to the death upon death of trans women and men across America, and how we can work against the stereotypes that plague us (of men in dresses and girls pretending to be men, and all the confused people “in between”). When do we get our non-discrimination act? When do we get appropriate health care and insurance? When do we get more than lip service that we are deserving of civil rights?

When do we get enough respect from society that people will stop asking us invasive questions?

When do we get to just live our lives?

All my best thoughts to you, CeCe.

Justice of Opportunity

UPDATE: You can call Michael Freeman at 612-348-5540 and Marlene Senechal at 612-348-5561, the prosecutors in CeCe McDonald’s case. Tell them you are calling as a supporter of Ms. Chrishaun McDonald and are concerned about her case.

CeCe McDonald poster from RacialiciousThe United States tells its citizens and residents that it is a nation governed by the Rule of Law–that everyone is equal under the eyes of these laws, and that our system of jurisprudence and law protects us as individuals and collectively. And yet even laws that look simple on the surface; say–speeding on a roadway–are experienced very differently across intersections of race, class, gender, and gender identity. Does the driver receive a citation? A warning? Is the driver asked to exit the vehicle? Is the vehicle searched? Is the driver asked to prove citizenship or residency status? Does the driver’s ID match their gender presentation? Is the vehicle presumed to be street legal? What level of suspicion does the officer presume about the driver?

Laws, after all, are written by people, and people come to the act of writing laws with their own sets of intent and motivation. People also are fallible. How else to explain the state of Kansas’s overreaching to restrict voting rights based on some observed “need” for security, when there is next to no evidence that individuals cheat the voting system, nationally or in Kansas specifically? Or as Dr. Jen Gunter notes in her pro-choice blog, how do we explain the non-medical, non-scientific, non-rational laws written to restrict reproductive rights for women? Read More…

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