Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Transgender Stories in the Media: Take Action & Educate

I have been so overwhelmed at work these last few weeks that I haven't had time to properly respond to all of these articles. However, transfolks are in the news a LOT these past few days, and I'm going to do a run-down here:

First, the reporter in Indianapolis who mis-identified Taysia Elzy's pronouns is refusing to change them. Monica Roberts has a great post with contact information: Please please please write to him and let him know that the "agenda" of changing pronouns is the "agenda" of showing respect. He doesn't need to be defensive that he messed up, he needs to make changes.

In Jakarta, Indonesia a legislator is calling for 14% of all jobs to go to transgender people. His incredibly logical reasoning is that since transgender people make up 14% of the population, they should occupy an equal amount of the workforce. Since they don't, he concludes that transphobia keeps transpeople from occupying legal jobs so they turn to illegal occupations such as sex work and drug dealing. Wow. That seems so sensible...

The ACLU has taken up the case of two transwomen who are suing to change their birth certificates to reflect their post-operative identity. Apparently Illinois has changed birth certificates for over 40 years but recently decided to stop the practice. I'm glad the ACLU has taken her case as they have a history of winning such cases, but I wonder if any progressive changes, such as not needing to undergo surgery, will result.

A Sacramento transwoman was attacked two weeks ago, and this story from the Sacramento Bee does an excellent non-sensational job of covering it. My only concern is that the perpetrators are described as African American, which is they are is accurate and fair. However, since racial identity can only be known if someone tells you their racial identity it seems unfair to decide for them. I know my college tried to do consciousness-raising on this issue by asking college security to avoid asking for race and simply asking about skin tone or clothing descriptors so that the term African American or Latino wasn't equated with criminal. I'm still tossing this around in my head, so i welcome comments!

New America Media reported on new changes in Cuba which includes the growing acceptance of transgender people. The author uses "transvestite" and doesn't seem to see a problem with transpeople being relegated to sex work, yet I found the article interesting all the same as I know surprisingly little about Cuba. From the article "A toleration and discussion of sexuality diversity became more wide spread in 2006 when Raul’s daughter, Mariela Castro Espin, published a special issue of the magazine she edits, “Sexology and Society.” On the inside of the cover page the very first words are: “To be homosexual, bisexual, transsexual or transvestite is not an illness nor a perversity, nor does it constitute any type of offense.”"

Finally, as most people have heard, a biracial transwoman in Appleton WI is suing a bar for discrimination. Articles from the Chicago Tribune, and NBC26 have done a fairly good job of reporting the facts, although they haven't gotten into the real grit of why this might happen. Sierra Broussard was told that she might want to go to a club that caters to "her kind" according to the lawsuit. Being a transgender woman of color in Wisconsin one can only guess where "her kind" are supposed to go. I really applaud her courage to fight this out in courts, as more and more lawsuits about gender identity discrimination are filed we are beginning to see why it is vital for gender expression and identity to be included in ENDA and similar bills.

So after reading these stories write to the reporter and say "hey, awesome! Thanks for remembering we're part of your community." then tell them how to improve, what local resources they could use next time, and other things to remind them that transgender people are deserving of accurate and inclusive coverage!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Disappearing into Privilege

From the HoustonPress comes this story, “Attagirl: Transsexual Police Officer Nominated Grand Marshall of Pride Parade”. Which is an amazing story celebrating Police Officer Julia Christina Oliver who had (apparently) tremendous support from her commanding officers as she transitioned.Officer Oliver also lives in Houston, one of the many cities that Jennifer Gale lived and campaigned in before her death.

I wrote about Jennifer Gale before I left GLAAD, and you can read more about that here, “Jennifer Gale, Austenite Transgender Leader found Dead”. I wonder if people will remember Jennifer come November’s Transgender Day of Remembrance when we commemorate and memorialize the lives of transgender people who were murdered. In many ways, I feel that Jennifer was indeed murdered. Being a transwoman kept her out of shelters and thereby increased her risk not only to the harsh elements that may have directly caused her death, but also the risk of physical and sexual assault. I’m not sure I want to compare what happened to her to what happened to Duanna Johnson or Sanesha Stewart, but I do want to acknowledge that had her transgender identity been understood and respected by city shelters, potential employers, etc she might not have been allowed to die.

So here we have a state where in one of the most well-known liberal cities a transwoman dies in the cold because there is no space to go, and a few cities over a transwoman has the support of her commanding officer in one of the most conservative, racist, and sexist occupations. Without wishing to trivialize Jennifer’s death or take away from Julia’s achievement I do wonder how these two white transwomen who are both clearly well-educated achieved such different support systems. I don’t wish to paint this as a binary issue, and I’m not speaking specifically about what happens in the Houston community. Instead I am interested in how I can learn from these two lives how to better serve transgender people in my new job, and simply in general as I write, volunteer, and fight for transgender rights.

What I immediately see here is that the focus for services in traditional LGBT (or GLB with the T added on) organizations is a focus on “upwardly mobile” services. We (and I include myself here as I do work in the same organizations I’m criticizing) tend to be nervous to talk about the activities deemed negative or destructive that occur in our communities. We are also so used to hearing the “I’m the same as you” argument that sometimes we’re less willing to acknowledge the ways queer people differ from straight people. Homelessness (as an example) is overwhelmingly ignored in outreach of LGBT organizations and foundations. Another example, when we encounter a person who has a learning, cognitive, mental or emotional disability we are more likely to encourage institutionalization than to discuss disability understanding in our communities or to rearrange our modes of education, service provision etc to better fit their needs. When we encounter a person who doesn’t fit our idea of what a man or a woman should be (especially if we think they are “early on” in a transition) we tend to encourage them to “pick a gender” or we subtly hint ways of “feminizing” or “masculinizing” an appearance.

I want to make sure that we are addressing all the members of our community and encouraging people to question why they want to disappear into cisgender heterosexual society by pretending to be, or actually embodying “the same as you” identity. For an example of integration: that we acknowledge that while having an LGBT police liaison may be incredibly useful and helpful it doesn’t always benefit all of our community members. So we encourage people to turn to examples given by the Audre Lorde Project’s Safe Outside the System or Sista II Sista’s model of community intervention that encourage community members to address issues of violence or criminal behavior in a model that isn’t rooted in racism and sexism. A second example: that while we work and organize for the right to marry (if that is what makes you happy) we acknowledge that marriage alone isn’t what should give people the right to access health care, second parent adoption, hospital visitation etc. That we simultaneously work with communities of immigrants, multiple or single parent homes or homes headed by multiple generations to secure legal rights that actually reflect the many and varied ways families are formed in the U.S.

It is through acknowledging that being recognized in capitalist white supremacist heteronormative ableist America as equal isn’t necessarily a positive thing that we will be able to actually affect each others lives in ways that promote positive social change and hopefully encourage each other to be more cognizant of the positive possibilities of difference.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Respond to Anti-Transgender Reporting

Stories like this one (from an Associated Press reporter!) are exactly why transgender anti-discrimination laws are getting overturned across the nation. Reporters have a duty to report accurately and fairly. This reporter, Mr. Ron Word, has written an article headlined "Fla. conservatives fight transgender restroom rule". While Word does interview two transwomen the majority of his article is incredibly biased. He incorrectly defined "transgender" and did not provide any statistics, quotes, or research refuting the ridiculous claim that a non-discrimination law will magically grant pedophiles more access to children. Please (especially if you live in Florida) read this article and email him a response. Stories like this spread fear and lies, and do no service for our community. Email Ron Word at

Below is my email to Mr. Word.

Hello Mr. Word,

I am writing to you in response to your recent article “Fla. conservatives fight transgender restroom rule”. I greatly appreciate you highlighting this political and social battle, as it is an issue all Floridians – and folks across the US facing similar legal battles should be aware of.

Opening your article with the “dark” and grossly misinformed ad against gender identity non-discrimination at first struck me as an excellent way to showcase the fear-mongering of those who oppose the protection. Yet, you site the ad as being “sort of” true, and never document the reasons why it is not true. The protection extends to issues of gender identity, and in terms of bathrooms it protects transwomen and transmen who wish to use the bathrooms associated with their sex – not pedophiles or sexual offenders. In fact there are no documented court cases in any of the existing counties, cities or states with gender identity protection where a pedophile or a sexual offender claimed the gender-identity protection as their right to commit crimes. Pedophilia and sexual assault will still be illegal. By not reporting this and by not clarifying that the protection does not apply to those engaged in illegal activity you allow this misinformed fear to go unabated.

Moreover, you seem perhaps a bit confused on the subject of transgender people. They do not “change their sexual orientation” as you report. Transgender is an umbrella term that refers to anyone whose gender presentation differs from the sex they were assigned at birth or from cultural norms on how men and women act. Thus, gender identity protection extends to feminine men and masculine women who may not even identify as transgender as well as transsexual men and women who live full-time in a sex different from the one assigned at birth. Transgender people can be straight, gay, lesbian, or bisexual as gender identity is different from sexual orientation.

I strongly urge you to contact the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). GLAAD works with media professionals to ensure fair and accurate coverage of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and subjects. They have extensive resources and can assist in connecting you to transgender leaders in Florida who might be able to more accurately represent this extraordinarily important issue. I have cc’d Sarah Kennedy, GLAAD’s Media Field Strategist to this email and I urge you to call or email her with any questions or concerns (646-871-8012). In addition, GLAAD’s Transgender Glossary of Terms can be very useful:

Mik Kinkead

Now, cut and paste this one or go write your own!! Thank you!

Black Transwomen Celebrated

Monica Roberts, that fabulous blogger and webmistress of TransGriot, mentioned my partner, Amanda Morgan, in her entry on transwomen of color working for progressive change. I was totally shocked when I saw her name and photo! Not that she was mentioned but that my partner, who is genderqueer, who be cataloged along side all the transgender women who were assigned male at birth and had to pursue some kind of social shift in order to live as their true female selves.

Now, in my world I think the more transgender, transsexual, and gender non-conforming people get together and share their stories the stronger our presences will be. When we understand our true gender diversity we can create a more united front in the struggle for recognition and rights. But a lot of folks don't think that way, and a lot of folks quite rightly point out that there are different histories and needs in our various gender identities. But for every person who is focused on a singular self-struggle, there is a person who sees the larger picture of how transgender identity affects us all.

Take for instance, someone like Khadijah Farmer. Khadijah is a cisgender lesbian who was forcibly removed from a restroom (and subsequently the restaurant) because the bouncer thought she wasn't female. When Khadijah chose to be represented by Michael Silverstein of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund she became (although she already was) a gender warrior. She acknowledged that her experience was replicated across the U.S. towards transwomen and transmen, gender non-conforming people, and masculine women and feminine men who might not even consider themselves at risk for gender discrimination. Now, Khadijah never identified publicly as gender non-conforming, while my partner does. But the principal is fairly similar - one doesn't have to be in the more traditional purview of "transgender" to experience gender-identity based discrimination. Be it from the state refusing to protect your right to equal employment, a private restaurant deciding who can and can't use the bathrooms, or be it from friends who ask "how can someone feminine be so aggressive" or "how can you wear skirts and not shave your legs?"

I am also incredibly pleased to see such a positive celebratory piece on Black transwomen. A few months ago Monica posted an entry Notable African-American Transgender People where she listed 23 active African American transgender people and 5 transgender folks who had passed on. I added Imani Henry, June Brown, Tona Brown, Monica Roberts, and Isis King to the list and have printed it out and hung it all over my new office. There aren't enough people aware of the great number of transfolk of color who are battling transphobia and racism. But Monica is raising our levels of awareness and supplying educators like myself with invaluable resources.

I have always looked at Monica as a pinnacle of transgender blogging. I don't always agree 100%, but I am constantly learning form her. And now I have a very personal reason to think she is just absolutely amazing!

P.S. Sorry for all of the very short updates. If my blog has come to be known for something (big if there!) it is for my rather long responses to issues of language, politics, and identity. However with my new job I am still trying to figure out a writing schedule. Which means I have many short posts now for January, and lots of notes that I hope to soon transform into actual entries.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

New York City: Take Direct Action Against Ableism!

As we discuss accessibility and the new versions of the DSM-V (see here and here for discussions of transgender identity) I wanted to bring some awesome direct action items that folks concerned about access should be aware of:

The following is from the Disabilities Network of New York:

New Yorkers with disabilities are being severely affected by this economic downturn. Already among the lowest-income New Yorkers, they are now being hit with budget cuts.

For example, the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) wants to MORE THAN DOUBLE the fare for the Access-A-Ride paratransit service. For many New Yorkers with disabilities, this is the only way to get to a doctor’s appointment, school or work.

Now they are being asked to pay MORE than nondisabled transit riders. And for a service they use only because public transportation is largely inaccessible to them!

To me, this does not seem fair or even practical. That is why the Disabilities Network is working with our allies to suggest EQUITABLE AND REALISTIC alternatives to this increase (more here). We're even talking with the for-hire car industry about new transit options that would serve people with disabilities better for the same cost or less.

Our work doesn't stop during this economic crisis; in fact, there is more need than ever. That is why I am asking you to contribute to the Network today.

Your support should be at the level that is right for you. Your contribution of any amount means so much.

Many Americans report that they will increase their charitable giving this year. They know that, with government funding down, it is the individual who must make sure that our society does not abandon its core values of civil rights and equal opportunity."

Coming directly after I heard about the inaccessible Obama Inauguration this news is incredibly distressing. Except distressing isn’t the right word. The idea of more than doubling the Access-a-Ride fare is a sentence of solitude to most New Yorkers with disabilities. There are only a handful of accessible subway stations, and even those deemed “accessible” often aren’t. Elevators are consistently out of order, there are never clean benches for resting, turnstiles are at an inaccessible height and can be way to small for many people. In addition there is no security at most subway stops and folks with disabilities are at a severe risk for encountering violence, although added security could also be a detriment to many folks with emotional/mental/cognitive disabilities.

On my ride to work today I was handed a flier that said the subway/bus discount for senior citizens, children and folks with disabilities would be unchanged. Which is great. Except of course for the fact that the subways aren’t equipped for folks with any kind of disability.

What's also bitterly ironic is that I was handed this flier on the Long Island Rail Road. I want to recognize that there are people who travel on the LIRR who are coming from positions of low income or poverty, or are struggling with our economic times. However the overwhelming ridership is people with significant incomes. So it's incredibly upsetting that a person on their way to the Hamptons might know about these meetings but that the average New Yorker on the subway has seen no posters, announcements, or LCD screens about the public hearings. And I can gurantee no one has handed a NYC subway rider a flier. There has been a very clear demonstration of who the MTA is trying to market the hearing towards.

So please consider donating! Or better yet donate and contact the MTA to let them know it’s not acceptable. For New Yorkers attend a hearing at any of the following locations (all are accessible) and voice your anger. For folks outside of New York contact Douglas Sussman Director of MTA Community Affairs:

347 Madison Ave
New York, NY 10017

Monday, January 5, 2009

Access at Inauguration

I just read on Frida and on Feminsite that President-Elect Obama’s inauguration will be largely inaccessible to folks with limited mobility. Feministe’s Cara has analyzed the situation really well, so I’ll just encourage folks to go read her entry.

I still believe that Obama is indeed the change we need to see in Washington, but I stand by my October comments towards his policies even more. I think he wants to do the right thing and on the general areas of policy that most politicians are familiar with, I believe he will do the right thing. But disability advocacy - for instance – is a subject too many politicians are unaware of, and a subject we all need to educate his cabinet, advisors, etc about. Of course I’m also aware that Obama isn’t the specific person who decided “hey let’s shut down access” but he sets the tone for access.

I went onto the inauguration page to read about accessibility issues and found the phone numbers for Congressional Special Services Staff (isn’t that name condescending!). Perhaps one of the ways to voice disapproval is to call these numbers and let folks know that the “special services” they’ve provided simply aren’t enough:

202-224-4048 (voice)*

202-224-4049 (TTY)

I realize that educating is tiring and shouldn’t have to be done, but that’s all the more reason why folks who identify as anti-ableist allies (I try to be one) should make sure to call these numbers, too. In my professional capacity as “trans-for-pay” I have often heard/seen folks assume that only a transgender person can respond to anti-transgender actions. While clearly a transgender position carries a lot of weight in such a circumstance, assuming a trans-only policy undermines the work of all our allies and family members. Often I find that my friends are just as enraged as I am, and in some circumstances even more enraged. So while we may not know what it would be like to face limited mobility at the inauguration we can still ally ourselves to the fact that no one’s ability to attend the inauguration should be made any more difficult.

*The website referred to the non-TTY phone as “voice”…should I change that to “hearing”? What are non-TTY phones referred to as? I’ve never differentiated before. I did a few Google searches and didn’t find anything. I appreciate anyone who can let me know!