Tag Archives: transgender civil rights

Movement Study: Allies, Backlash, Meaning

In just the last two months we’ve gone from the hurried lawmaking that pushed through North Carolina’s HB2 that halted Charlotte’s city ordinance against discrimination of transgender people, to a moving speech by the Attorney General suing the Governor over the law. But just to recap, here is a quick overview of the moments between those points:

  • Wednesday, March 23: HB2 is introduced in the chamber, debated for approximately 90 minutes, voted on and passed, and that evening, signed into law by Gov. McCrory. [Eleven Democratic representatives voted for its passage; all of the Democratic senators walked out of the chamber refusing to vote at all, so it passed the senate chamber 32-0.]
  • Friday, March 25: The NBA releases a statement saying it may move future playoff games from the state if HB2 is not reversed or voided.
  • Monday, March 28: The ACLU of North Carolina, Lambda Legal, and Equality NC file a lawsuit on behalf of three transgender and queer people who are employed by the state government, against HB2. The Governor goes on local news outlets to support the new law.
  • Thursday, March 31: The list of businesses and organizations coming out against HB2 grows to more than 300.
  • Wednesday, May 4: The Department of Justice sends a letter to Gov. McCrory telling him not to enforce HB2 or face further action from the federal government. The letter gives North Carolina until Monday, May 9, to show it will not enforce the law.
  • Monday, May 9: The Governor’s office sues the DOJ, in North Carolina’s eastern district of Federal Court, insisting that its interpretation of “sex” (e.g., sex assigned at birth) is correct, and not the federal government’s interpretation (gender/sex identity and expression)
  • Monday, May 9, about six hours later: Attorney General Loretta Lynch and head of the Civil Rights Division, Vanita Gupta announced that they had filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Governor Pat McCrory, the North Carolina Department of Public Safety and the University of North Carolina.

Much of Ms. Lynch’s remarks spelled out not just the legal foundation of the government’s case, but also the Obama Administration’s stance on ensuring civil rights for all transgender Americans, a series of sentences that had never been so clearly expressed in the history of any country towards the transgender community:

Let me also speak directly to the transgender community itself.  Some of you have lived freely for decades.  Others of you are still wondering how you can possibly live the lives you were born to lead.  But no matter how isolated or scared you may feel today, the Department of Justice and the entire Obama Administration wants you to know that  we see you; we stand with you; and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward.  Please know that history is on your side.  This country was founded on a promise of equal rights for all, and we have always managed to move closer to that promise, little by little, one day at a time.  It may not be easy – but we’ll get there together.

There is much to unpack in this part of her statement, not the least of which is whether the rule of law is adequate to support an emancipatory or even radical politic for transgender people. I wouldn’t ever expect a federal institution to call for radical change, because that would be like expecting a snake to eat itself. What this statement does do, however, is make direct reference to earlier civil rights struggles, a tumultuous legal and social history that depending on one’s textbook, might not be covered in primary or secondary school. It’s a government looking at itself and its role in supporting all Americans, and in a polarized, political environment like we have right now, in which the Republican Senate leader can somehow decide to not do his constitutional duty to confirm a Supreme Court justice, in which all it takes is one senator to decide Flint residents shouldn’t get the federal emergency funding they need to remedy their catastrophic municipal water problem, and in which more than twenty states have come out with legislation that basically calls transgender women sexual predators despite all evidence to the contrary, such a statement is incredibly important. If we can agree that a law like HB2 puts trans people who are on the edge at risk of suicide and harassment, then what do we make of a statement, bald and assertively pronounced, that the government is standing behind those vulnerable people?

Screen Shot 2016-05-13 at 4.52.24 PM.pngI make of it that it is life-saving. I really do. I have known—I have been—people who needed a sign that they weren’t an incarnation of wrecked evil or humanity. That they, we, have a purpose. That being trans isn’t a horrible disease. That it can in fact, be wonderful, or mundane, or present us with fascinating opportunities, or help us become better people because we are more us.

It is a commonly held belief within the broad LGBT contingent that these anti-trans bills are an intentional backlash and attempt by the far right that is still licking its wounds over losing the same-sex marriage fight. It’s easy to call this fight intentional, as it is clearly financed by the same organizations that fueled the push against marriage equality. And while the reactionary push against trans civil rights is well funded (even if it turns out to ultimately be futile), several LGBT equality groups shut their doors after the SCOTUS ruling. This has left much of the support for trans rights to transgender groups and to non-LGBT allies who work on civil rights. But what work they’re doing—with today’s two events shoring up even more support for the trans community.

This morning, the Obama Administration made two announcements: first, the President sent a letter to every public school district in the country (wrap your mind around THAT mailing) that they must let transgender students use the rest room and locker room that comports with their gender identity, or face a revocation of federal education funding.

BOOM.

There are more than 14,000 school districts in the United States today.

The scale of that statement boggles my mind. But then later this morning, another declaration came out. The Administration directed health insurers across the country that they could no longer reject coverage for people simply because they are transgender.

CRASH.

Conservatives are ranting across hyperspace, in social media and on right-wing media outlets, but they do not have the force of law behind them. This ally work from the highest office in the land means something very important even if it is not revolutionary. It is still affirming, validating, critical, systemic, and a clear kick in the pants to the wave of legalized harassment that we’ve seen in the way of “religious freedom” and “bathroom bills.” It means something huge that the trans civil rights movement has had these broad statements made three times in three days, in a time when the top court in the federal system is missing a deliberator.

I cheer these moves from the President and his staff. And I turn to our allies within the LGBT coalition and say, what will you do now to help the trans community?

 

 

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.

 

 

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…

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