Posts tagged ‘discrimination’

February 17, 2014

Kansas Senate Comes To It’s Senses And Nixes Extreme Anti-Gay (Jim Crow) Legislation []

kansassealBy: Justin Baragona /
The Kansas Senate decided on Friday that they would kill the legislation that was passed earlier this week by the state’s House of Representatives. The bill, known as House Bill 2453,would have opened the door to widespread segregation and discrimination of those in the LGBT community. On Tuesday, the House of Representatives, which is overwhelmingly Republican, passed the bill with ease by a vote of 72-49. It was assumed that with a large majority in the state’s Senate and the extremely conservative Sam Brownback as Governor, the legislation was going to fly through and become law.

Well, something happened along the way. Perhaps it was the fact that the law made national headlines and had a lot of blowback. Or maybe it was due to what Andrew Sullivan wrote on Friday regarding what the law would do for the LGBT community. In his column, Sullivan accurately noted that passing a law that so blatantly discriminates gays and treats them like second-class citizens would inevitably be the death knell for the religious right in its attempt to prevent the advancement of gay rights.

Basically, by going forward with this, the gay community could rightly point to this law and compare it to the Jim Crow laws of the South. It also would have an avalanche effect on the GOP, as young voters would be turned off by them for good due to their penchant for bigotry. Sullivan nailed it with the following paragraph:

If the Republican Party wanted to demonstrate that it wants no votes from anyone under 40, it couldn’t have found a better way to do it. Some critics have reacted to this law with the view that it is an outrageous new version of Jim Crow and a terrifying portent of the future for gays in some red states. It is both of those. It’s the kind of law that Vladimir Putin would enthusiastically support. But it is also, to my mind, a fatal mis-step for the movement to keep gay citizens in a marginalized, stigmatized place.

July 16, 2013

Transgender woman wins landmark employment discrimination suit []

In a historic first, the federal government has ruled in favor of a transgender woman in a work harassment case


The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has ruled in favor of a transgender woman who was verbally and physically harassed at her job with a federal contractor in Maryland. The court ruled that the woman’s supervisors created a hostile work environment by failing to intervene after being informed of the harassment, in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The ruling is a historic first, advocates say.

“We applaud the EEOC for conducting such a thorough investigation and interviewing so many witnesses to the anti-transgender harassment,” Tico Almeida, president of the LGBT organization Freedom to Work, told the Advocate. “Coming just a few months after the EEOC issued its historic decision that transgender people are protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the EEOC’s reasonable cause determination in this case is, to our knowledge, the first time in history that the EEOC has investigated allegations of anti-transgender harassment and ruled for the transgender employee. This case shows that the EEOC takes very seriously its role in protecting LGBT Americans’ freedom to work.”

The details of the first case have been kept confidential as part of the settlement.

Another case, adjudicated around the same time, is also a major victory for transgender rights.

That case, known as Macy v. Holder, was initiated after the plaintiff, Mia Macy, was denied a job with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives after she came out as transgender.

More from the Washington Blade:

After applying for the job, Macy was told in January 2011 that she would receive a position at the laboratory. But after she disclosed in March 2011 she would transition from male to female, the contractor informed Macy the position was cut. Later, she was told someone else was awarded the job.

The 51-page decision — which was signed by Complaint Adjudication Officer Mark Gross and Complaint Adjudication Office Attorney Carl Taylor — lays out several terms for relief in the Macy case.

First, the Justice Department says ATF within 60 days of the decision must offer Macy that job she was seeking at the Walnut Creek factory and award her back pay and benefits — with interest — for the period between April 2011 to January 2012.

Additionally, the Justice Department says ATF must take corrective action to ensure future discrimination never occurs again; award Macy compensatory damages for any injuries she may have received; refund Macy her attorney’s fees; and post a notice within 30 days consistent with employment law.

“I never thought in my life that it would be over, but to have it not only be over but to have them say, ‘Yes, unfortunately, your civil rights were violated. They did do this.’ To have that vindication, it’s surreal,” Macy told BuzzFeed in a comment on the victory.

Greg Nevins, supervising senior staff attorney in Lambda Legal’s Southern Regional Office in Atlanta, says these cases demonstrate the importance of federal protections for LGBT workers, as he told the Blade: “We need action by the 113th Congress to pass the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, and even more immediately, President Obama should sign the executive order banning LGBT discrimination by companies that profit from federal contracts,” Nevins said. “That executive order should have broad support across the political spectrum, since federal dollars should neither fund discrimination nor go to employers whose personnel and productivity suffer because discrimination and harassment are tolerated.”

July 14, 2013

Iowa Still Believes Women Can Be Fired For Being Too Attractive []

by Max Rivlan Nader /

A few months ago, the Iowa Supreme Court made the surprising decision that women can be fired from their jobs for being too attractive, regardless if they’ve engaged in activity that compromises their job performance.

Melissa Nelson, a thirty-three year old dental assistant from Fort Dodge, was fired after the dentist she worked for, Dr. James Knight, believed that she was too tempting to be kept around the office, lest he decide to sleep with her. Because Nelson would be totally into it, obviously.

After filing an appeal of the Supreme Court’s decision, Nelson was once again rebuffed by the all-male bench, which found “that bosses can fire employees that they and their spouses see as threats to their marriages.”

The court found that Nelson was legally fired “because of the activities of her consensual personal relationship.” These activities included text messages between her and her employer that were not found to be flirtatious or leading in any way.

So, beautiful employees of Iowa beware! You can totally be fired for just looking like your aesthetically pleasing selves.

January 23, 2013

Sundance 2013: Anita Hill takes her story to film in new documentary []

by Ben Fulton, The Salt Lake Tribune

Resplendent in gold jewelry and black-brown ensemble, Anita Hill is having far more fun during this year’s Sundance Film Festival than she did 22 years ago in front of a Senate Judiciary Committee.

“I can never go back to the person I was at that moment,” Hill said during a brief interview inside a lounge on Park City’s Main Street. “We grow. We develop. We move on. Hopefully, we evolve into that person we want to be.”

Today a professor of law, social policy and women’s studies at Brandeis University, Hill speaks tirelessly on behalf of women’s equality.

At the same time, she knows her name will forever be tied to those October days in 1991. That’s when as a young, soft-spoken law professor she stunned the nation with graphic testimony against then-Supreme Court justice nominee Clarence Thomas, bringing the issue of sexual harassment out of the workplace and into the public arena.

Hill turned down past offers to have her story told on film. In Freida Mock, Academy Award-wining director of “Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision,” Hill said she at last found a filmmaking voice she knew she could trust. “You feel really flattered when someone as accomplished as she is approaches you,” Hill said.

“Anita,” which Mock said she appropriately began shooting three years ago on Martin Luther King Day, reminds audiences that, behind every brave face going public, the personal story informing their decision is never far behind.

The film, which received its world premiere Saturday at Park City’s Marc theater, walks back into time to tell the story of Hill’s rural Oklahoma upbringing. The youngest of 13 children, her parents raised her under the saying familiar to many black children, “You’ve got to be twice as good to get half as much.” The Yale Law School student who graduated with honors in 1980, and was admitted to the District of Columbia Bar that same year, did not disappoint.

“When people ask how I got my courage I say, ‘You can start there [with my family], particularly with my mother,’ ” Hill said.

Click to read the rest of the story…

Click here to view video interview…

June 19, 2012

Michigan House Passes Anti-Gay ‘License To Condemn’ Counseling Bill []

by Zack Ford /

At question in Michigan is whether or not a Christian counseling student should be required to provide support to gay clients in violation of their religious beliefs. This week, the Michigan House passed HB 5040, the “Julea Ward Freedom Of Conscience Act,” which gives college students a pass from providing any kind of counseling that compromises their religious beliefs, including affirming gay clients:

A public degree or certificate granting college, university, junior college, or community college of this state shall not discipline or discriminate against a student in a counseling, social work, or psychology program because the student refuses to counsel or serve a client as to goals, outcomes, or behaviors that conflict with a sincerely held religious belief of the student, if the student refers the client to a counselor who will provide the counseling or services.

Julea Ward’s story doesn’t hold much merit for the issue at stake. She sued Eastern Michigan University after she was kicked out of her counseling graduate program — she refused to affirm a client’s gay orientation because it “goes against what the Bible says.” A federal district court judge dismissed her suit, ruling that the university “had a right and duty” to enforce the professional ethic rules that dictate its counseling accreditation. He added that Ward’s dismissal “was entirely due” to her “refusal to change her behavior” rather than her beliefs. The 11th Circuit similarly ruled against Jennifer Keeton, who experienced a similar situation at Augusta State University in Georgia, stating that “counselors must refrain from imposing their moral and religious values on their clients.”

By advancing this legislation, Michigan lawmakers are essentially attempting to circumvent — if not dictate — counseling ethical standards. While it’s very true that in a professional setting, a Christian counselor could defer a gay client to another counselor, there’s no guarantee that they will. Even the very act of deferring could add to the stigma and harm the client is already experiencing, let alone the potential that harmful ex-gay therapy might be offered instead. The ethical standards exist for a reason, and should HB 5040 become law, it would compromise the integrity of all counseling programs in the state of Michigan.

As activist Wayne Besen pointed when the legislation was first introduced, “counseling should be about the client, not the self-serving needs of the therapist.” But Michigan lawmakers have made clear this year how little concern they have for gay citizens. In December, they banned all domestic partnerships, and in November, they almost created a “license to bully” in schools. Through it all, Gov. Rick Snyder (R) has refused to even meet with LGBT press outlets.

June 12, 2012

Man tells senators transgendered people ‘lose their careers’ []

by Jamie Goldberg /

WASHINGTON — When Kylar Broadus told his employer he would be making a gender transition from a woman to a man, he was harassed and ultimately forced out of his well-paying job at a financial institution, he said. It took him a year to find other employment.

“People lose their careers. It’s over when people find out you’re transgender,” said Broadus, founder of the Trans People of Color Coalition, who some senators said was the first openly transgender person to testify before theU.S. Senateon Tuesday.

Following a letter from Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Robert Casey (D-Pa.), and Susan Collins (R-Maine), the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions reopened discussion on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill that would prohibit nonreligious employers with at least 15 employees from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Forty-two percent of homosexuals and bisexuals reported employment discrimination because of their sexual orientation, according to the 2008 General Social Survey, a sociological survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.

Seventy-eight percent of transgender people reported harassment at work because of their gender identity, according to a 2011 report by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law.

Among those who say they have faced discrimination are Jacqueline Gill, a temporary instructor at a community college in Texas, who was told by her supervisor that “Texas doesn’t like homosexuals” and Vandy Beth Glenn, a transgender woman who says she was fired from her job at the Georgia General Assembly for her gender expression.

“We have decades of social science research that tell us that those stories, which are just a sample of many, are repeated in workplaces all throughout America,” testified M.V. Lee Badgett, research director for the Williams Institute. However, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act has had little success in Congress. ENDA has been introduced in nearly every Congress since 1994, and in 2007 a modified version, without protections for transgender individuals, passed through the House before dying in the Senate.

While committee chairman Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) expressed a commitment to seeing the bill move quickly through committee, he could not give any time frame. No Republicans attended what was supposed to be a full committee hearing.

Freedom to Work, a national organization committed to banning workplace discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid(D-Nev.) on Tuesday urging him to bring the bill to the Senate floor. Freedom to Work President Tico Almeida plans to continue to press Harkin to push the bill through the committee.

Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and it is illegal in 16 states and the District of Columbia for employers to discriminate on the basis of gender identity.

While Broadus finds himself lucky to be employed once again, he still hasn’t recovered financially and emotionally from the discrimination he faced.

“It will go with me to my grave,” Broadus said.,0,6077678.story

June 7, 2012

Gay teens less likely to be happy, nationwide survey finds []

Even as barriers to equality fall, gay and lesbian teens report they still struggle with harassment and identity issues more than their straight peers do.

By Rebecca Trounson, Los Angeles Times

It’s not easy growing up gay in America, despite the nation’s increasing acceptance of same-sex marriage and other issues of gay equality.

Gay and lesbian teenagers across the United States are less likely to be happy, more likely to report harassment and more inclined to experiment with drugs and alcohol than the nation’s straight teens, according to a new nationwide survey of more than 10,000 gay and lesbian young people.

The survey, which will be released Thursday by the Human Rights Campaign, aWashington, D.C.-based civil rights group, is described as one of the largest ever to focus on the nation’s gay youth. It was conducted online and involved 10,030 participants aged 13 to 17 who identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. It also included interviews with about 500 13- to 17-year-olds who composed the poll’s “straight” population.

The study paints an often stark picture of the challenges of growing up gay in this country, even as same-sex marriage gains support among many Americans and other legal and cultural barriers to gay equality begin to fall.

The survey showed, for example, that half of all gay and lesbian teens reported being verbally harassed or called names at school, compared with a quarter of non-LGBT kids. About twice as many gay and lesbian respondents as straight teens also said they had been shoved, kicked or otherwise assaulted at their schools, with 17% of LGBT teens and 10% of straight youths reporting such assaults.

Fewer than half of gay teenagers said they believe their community is accepting of people like them, and 63% said they would need to move to another town or part of the country to find acceptance. Just 4 in 10 gay teens reported being happy, compared with nearly 7 in 10 of their straight peers.

And more than twice as many gay (52%) as non-gay (22%) respondents said they had experimented with drugs or alcohol.

Child welfare advocates who reviewed the study before publication praised it for shedding light on a population that is difficult to reach and in need of help from government agencies and others.

Linda Spears, vice president of policy for the Child Welfare League of America, said the study bears out “our worst fears about LBGT kids. These kids are often so vulnerable in the way their lives are being led because of the lack of support they have. They need what all young people need, parents and others who are there for them and nurture their development.”

Chad Griffin, the new president of the Human Rights Campaign and an advocate for same-sex marriage, said the survey “is yet another reminder that we still have a lot to do in this country so that young people can grow up healthy.”

Griffin, who helped organize the legal fight against Proposition 8, California’s ban on gay marriage, said he hopes the report will inform policymakers and serve as a reminder to parents, schools and elected officials about the challenges facing a vulnerable population.

“These are young people,” he said. “They worry about which hall they can walk down at school, which table they have to avoid in the lunchroom, what happens at church on Sunday and whether they need to hide their identity from their family.”

But the survey also showed that many gay teens find safe havens among their peers, on the Internet and in their schools. Nearly 3 in 4 gay teenagers said they were more honest about themselves online than elsewhere and 67% said their schools were “generally accepting” of gay people.

In interviews this week at L.A.’s Gay and Lesbian Center, several young people spoke about the survey’s findings and their own experiences coming to terms with their LGBT identity.

Jonathan McClain, a 22-year-old from Altadena, said he identified strongly with part of the study showing that many young gays and lesbians feel forced to change their identities almost hour by hour, depending on where they are and who’s around. Many LGBT kids are more likely to be “out” at school than they are with their families.

“Sometimes you’re out of the closet, sometimes you have to put yourself back in and watch what you say and how you act,” said McClain, who volunteers at the center.

McClain, who came out after he graduated from high school, said he had never directly experienced harassment.

That was not the case with others interviewed, including Edwin Chuc, from Los Angeles, who said he had been beaten up in middle school and ended up with broken ribs. Chuc said he had lived on the streets for several years and abused drugs and alcohol before turning his life around.

Now a confident 19-year-old who will attend USC in the fall, Chuc said his parents are much more supportive now than they were when he first came out. “I’m happy and I have people I can turn to,” he said.

Logan Woods, 18, of Manhattan Beach, said middle school was tough for him too, but high school, at the private Vistamar School in El Segundo, has been much better, with good friends and a strong gay support group among the students.

“It’s getting easier for me to live spontaneously and not feel like I have to plan everything out for fear of being hurt,” he said.

The survey was conducted online from April 16 through May 20. It was advertised through social media, as well as through LGBT youth centers across the country. The researchers said the survey method is not unusual for targeting hard-to-reach populations but may not represent a truly random sample.,0,6913489,print.story

June 6, 2012

Media Ignores Rash of Assaults on Transgender Women []

The spate of violence has gone virtually unnoticed by the mainstream media, as well as by the mainstream gay community

by Jay Michaelson /

On June 5, 2011, Chrishaun “CeCe” McDonald set out with three friends to go to a grocery store in Minneapolis. On the way they passed by the Schooner Tavern, where they encountered Dean Schmitz and Molly Flaherty. McDonald was 22, black, and transitioning from male to female. Schmitz and Flaherty, who were white, shouted racist and transphobic slurs at McDonald and her friends. McDonald kept walking, but Flaherty attacked her with a broken glass, cutting her face. A fight ensued, Schmitz joined, and at some point McDonald stabbed Schmitz with a pair of scissors. Schmitz (who, incidentally, had a swastika tattooed on his chest) later died of his wounds.

By any rational reading of these facts, McDonald’s actions constitute self-defense. (Though Minnesota lacks a “stand your ground” law like Florida’s, her use of force was arguably more justified than George Zimmerman’s shooting of Trayvon Martin—yet where are all the voices that raced to defend Zimmerman?)

Despite all this, McDonald was charged with second-degree murder, and pleaded guilty to manslaughter in May. On Monday, she was sentenced to 41 months in prison for manslaughter. Due to time already served, she probably will spend the next two years in prison, where if recent history is any guide, she will be subjected to physical and sexual assault. (As a general rule, prisoners are organized by anatomy, not gender, so she will be placed in a men’s prison.)

While the sentence has sparked outrage in some circles, it has gone virtually unnoticed by the mainstream media, as well as in the mainstream gay community, which has been consumed by the same-sex-marriage debate and the Tyler Clementi/Dharun Ravi case. But in fact, the CeCe McDonald case is part of a recent, horrifying spree of violence against transgender people, particularly trans people of color.

On April 29, 37-year-old Brandy Martell was shot dead in Oakland, in what has become a classic and tragic narrative of anti-trans violence: 3 a.m. Sunday morning, some men approach Martell, who’s sitting in a car with friends at a location known as a “safe space” for transgender women, and flirt with her. Martell discloses that she’s transgender, and the men leave. They return two hours later, shoot her in the genitals, and then in the chest. As of this writing, the killer has not been caught.

Many reasonable people don’t yet understand that transwomen like Chrissy Lee Polis are not perverted men in disguise, lurking in restrooms.

On April 16, Paige Clay, a transgender woman of color, was found murdered in a Chicago park. There are very few details about the killing, and no one has been arrested.

And on April 3, Coko Williams, another transgender woman of color, was shot to death in Detroit.

One case which did garner some mainstream media attention was that of Chrissy Lee Polis. Polis, a 24-year-old transwoman recovering from breast augmentation surgery, was emerging from the women’s restroom at a Baltimore-area McDonald’s in April 2011 when she was savagely beaten by two young women. A McDonald’s employee filmed the attack, laughed, and when another customer finally intervened to stop it, warned the attackers to leave before the police arrived.

While the attack on Polis was not as brutal as what happened to CeCe McDonald, it was filmed, and the video went viral, getting covered by ABC’sGood Morning America, as well as the Baltimore Sun and other newspapers. And unlike the others, the Polis case had a relatively good ending: McDonald’s fired the employee and compensated Polis (who is white), and the lead attacker was sentenced to five years in prison.

So how ought we to reflect on this tragic spate of violence? At the intersections of racism, sexism, and homophobia, these victims are triply victimized by stigma—four times over if we add in the element of class, and five times if we include transphobia as well. And we should; many reasonable people don’t yet understand that gender dysphoria is real, that gender is not defined by anatomy, and that transwomen like Chrissy Lee Polis are not perverted men in disguise, lurking in restrooms. (Conservative legislators frequently block protections for transgender people on the basis of this myth, as if stalkers need a legal pretext.) Precisely because transgender is a new concept for many people, trans people urgently need protection and respect.

Moreover, and I think this goes to the root of the problem, don’t many of us believe—or perhaps more accurately, feel—that these victims in some way brought the violence on themselves? Clay, the Chicago victim, was a glamorous rising star of the Chicago ball scene who once said, “If you are quiet as a mouse, no one will hear you.” In other words, most of these women were not bland, inoffensive “sweater gays”; they were RuPaul.

Even The New York Times betrayed this tendency in a recent story about Lorena Escalera, a transgender woman of color who died in a suspicious fire in Brooklyn in May. The story opened with this sentence:

She was 25 and curvaceous, and she often drew admiring glances in the gritty Brooklyn neighborhood where she was known to invite men for visits to her apartment, her neighbors and the authorities said.

After the Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation criticized this sexualization of the victim, the Times responded directly, saying that “we should have shown more care in our choice of words.”

Transphobia is not justified, and neither is ambivalence in the face of tragedy. Yet the reality is that transgender lives are new to many people, and they raise important questions our society has yet to address. Compared to other civil-rights movements, our national “evolution” on matters of LGBT equality has been remarkably fast, so fast that our culture has not yet articulated what it means. Are gay people to be welcomed because they are just like straight people, and therefore OK? Or should they be included because we all recognize that people are different from one another, and have a right to determine for themselves how to live their lives?

The difference between the two ideologies is what divides the so-called “good gays,” who simply want to go to the same country club as their straight friends, and those LGBT people—such as CeCe McDonald or Chrissy Lee Polis—who implicitly make a different set of demands. Yet novelty is no excuse for intolerance. It’s hard to believe that McDonald would go to jail if she were a “normal” (and white) gay or lesbian person like Dan Savage, or Ellen DeGeneres, or me. We’d understand that she was entitled to defend herself, and that she did not invite this violence by being flamboyant, gender-nonconforming, or black.

McDonald may well deserve some punishment for responding to the attack on her by stabbing Dean Schmitz with a pair of scissors. But for fighting back against a pervasive climate of transphobia and violence against people perceived to be gender-nonconforming, I think she deserves a medal.

May 19, 2012

Man enough to be a woman and still rock’n’rolling []

by Matilda Battersby /

It has been all over the newspapers that Against Me! singer Tom Gabel has decided to live as a woman. The Mail Online’s headline shrieked: “Punk rocker says he is having a sex change operation to become a woman… but he’s STAYING with his wife.” Another read: “Drugs, Sex(uality) and Rock’n’Roll”.

It was quite a surprise that the frontman of a rather macho band (all black jeans, tattoos and growling guitars) should have felt this way. During an interview with Rolling Stone magazine she described plans to take hormones and undergo gender reassignment surgery, after which he will be named Laura Jane Grace. “I’m going to have embarrassing moments,” she said. “But [I’m] hoping people will understand, and hoping they’ll be fairly kind.”

The news reports have not all been “fairly kind” and a couple were not very understanding at all, revealing thinly disguised ignorance about transgenderism. Several made inferences about Gabel’s sexuality and the implications for his marriage, confusing Gabel’s gender dysphoria (where you feel trapped in a body of the wrong sex) with questions about whether being a woman and having a wife makes her gay. Most strikingly, several of the reports lauded Gabel as “the first major rock star” to come out as transgender. While it is undoubtedly the case that in 2012 transgenderism is still a taboo, the statement that it has taken this long for a major musician to “come out” as trans simply isn’t true.

Fans of Jayne County will already know this. Born Wayne Rogers in 1947, County began performing as Jayne in 1979. With a signature track titled “Man Enough to Be a Woman”, County is acknowledged as one of the earliest, probably the first, transgender rock star. Despite never quite achieving the commercial success of some of her peers, the American was a big part of the English punk scene, forming Wayne County & the Electric Chairs in 1977. David Bowie, Patti Smith and Lou Read have credited her with influencing them.

There are more recent examples of high-profile musicians who have changed gender: Mina Caputo, formerly Keith Caputo, singer of heavy metal band Life Of Agony, confirmed last year that she was transitioning. German pop singer Kim Petras is probably the world’s youngest transgender musician (and one of the youngest post-operative trans people, full stop), after having sex reassignment surgery in 2009 aged 16. Jethro Tull keyboardist Dee Palmer (formerly David) transitioned at the aged of 67, long after he’d left the band.

The word “transgender” doesn’t refer to people who have had sex changes. It is an umbrella term used to describe those who identify with a gender which isn’t the one they were born with, or with no particular gender at all, regardless of whether they have sex reassignment surgery or take hormones.

Another famous muso, Antony Hegarty of the Mercury Prize-winning band Antony and the Johnsons, was born male, but is transitioned. “Do I feel female? You know, I feel like a mixture. I feel pretty mixed. I probably would identify as transgender,” he told NME. Similarly, Genesis P-Orridge of 1970s band Throbbing Gristle, sees himself as “pandrogynous”.

It’s not only rock and punk that have a healthy number of trans representatives. Jazz bassist John Leitham became Jennifer Leitham in 2001. Dana International, who won the 1998 Eurovision song contest for Israel, released her debut album soon after having sex reassignment surgery in 1993.

Regardless of whether Gabel is the first rock star to admit to being transgender, he is still brave to go public. The paradox of the music industry is that, despite nurturing talent and putting musicians with unusual or distinct sounds in the spotlight, there is still a perception that artists need to be squeaky clean and conventional if they’re to sell. Record labels have been known to advise against lifestyle choices that are celebrated and accepted in wider society, such as being gay, for fear that fans will no longer fancy their pop stars or believe that one day they can marry them – and that this will dent sales. Their attitude may be repugnant, but you can understand it from a business point of view.

Of all the companies I called, only one would speak to me on the record. That was Brighton-based Fat Cat Records, whose founder, Dave Cawley, spoke very supportively of trans artists but agreed he wouldn’t be surprised if pressure was applied at the corporate end of the industry not to come out.

Several people I spoke to off the record made it clear that the mainstream music scene is not a happy place to be transgender. One industry executive, who did not want to be named, said: “Trans musicians are treated in much the same way as gay artists. The straight men who run the music business aren’t ever particularly comfortable knowing how to work them and there is pressure not to come out.”

I contacted seven transgender musicians for comment, receiving polite refusals from Gabel, Dee Palmer and Justin Vivian Bond, and silence from three others.

Our Lady J, a gospel singer who has a growing following and counts Daniel Radcliffe among her fans, launched her musical career after transitioning from male to female. She told me: “There is a responsibility to educate that comes with being trans if you have any hope of surviving. I think this often keeps people from transitioning. There are huge risks, both professionally and personally.”

Joan King, chair of The Gender Trust, has worked as an artist manager in the music industry for two decades. “There is pressure not to come out as transgender in the music industry,” she said. “But I don’t think this is any different from boy bands being told not disclose that they have girlfriends and wives.”

April 29, 2012

Landmark EEOC Decision Declares ‘I am human!’ []

by Barbara Sehr /

Unlike the vast majority of observers of last summers “Dancing with the Stars,” I had not tuned in to see this “curiosity,” of a man, who came into life as the “daughter” of one of my favorite musical teams. Chas Bono has done much in the past year to bring our community in the public eye, and he is a splendid role model. Yet, after experiencing so much employment discrimination  in my own post-transition era, I could only think of a recent song called “Are we dancer, or are we human?”

Today, that changes, at least in this administration. In a landmark decision, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission,  the agency that regulates the provisions of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act, says that “intentional discrimination against a transgender individual because that person is transgender is, by definition, discrimination ‘based on … sex’ and such discrimination … violates Title VII.”

In short, we are human.

Readers of this space may remember that I traveled to Washington, DC, in 2010 to fight for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).  For one week, I got to sit down with Congressional and White House leaders, and explain how my employment struggle has battered my life for nearly two decades. Even here in the State of Washington, supposedly one of the more progressive states, it is hard to deal with the elephant in the room during a job interview.  Yes, the state now has its own anti-discrimination law that was put in place just six years ago.  It took black people more than a century from the Emancipation Proclamation to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to establish certain inalienable rights.  Even in this so-called “post-racial” society, some white people “stand their ground,” for non-threatening segregation forever.

In my prepared remarks for an address in Washington in the ENDA battle, I noted, “My resume often brings smiles to a hiring manager’s face like a $20 bill found in your coat pocket. Then comes the interview, and ecstasy becomes agony. My practiced 30-second elevator speech seems to rise no further than a quick body scan at the airport.”

Yesterday’s decision means that employers — especially those in the 34 states where folks like I could be fired for simply being who we are – will have to think harder about how to ignore us. Proving discrimination is very difficult; cases like the one that brought this decision come rarely. The decision also does not have the full force of law that passage of ENDA would bring.  The EEOC is an agency of the executive branch, and its enforcement priorities could change from administration to administration. Passage of ENDA would put the full force of law up against those that feel gender identity is some sort of choice and not something to be protected.

Still, this monumental decision is a move toward hope. A new generation of young people has grown up with less need to label and trash those whose inner being is different from their own. Who knows, being as unique as I am, might one day not be unique.  Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality said as much in her remarks following a recent mainstream television program highlighting some issues specific to our community: “I’m looking forward to the day when trans people are invited to Anderson Cooper 360Up with Chris Hayes, and The Rachel Maddow Show to talk about Wall Street reform, getting our troops out of Afghanistan, and overturning Citizens United. Right now, trans people talking about trans issues is crucial. But I believe that our exceptional progress will ultimately be marked by the moment when who we are becomes unexceptional. Getting there is going to take more people like Melissa Harris-Perry helping us raise all our voices and tell America our stories.”


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