Bathroom Bills and Your Right to Wee, According to Your Gender Identity(ee)

Bathroom bills are on the march across the United States.  Most of the states pursuing these “bathroom bills” are based in the South or Midwest of the country.  However, they may not be exclusive to these areas.  Either way, it is very disconcerting.

The gist of the “bathroom bills” is a ploy to allow discrimination against LGBTIQ based upon an exercise of “religious freedom”, “privacy issues”, and imaginary “safety issues”.  Most are sponsored by organizations that are virulently intolerant of anyone who is perceived as “not straight.”  Religion might be in their name, but it is historical patriarchal mechanisms which they are really supporting.  Thus, it is a structure that cannot tolerate any threat to loss of power or influence at it’s core.  This structure must constantly renew itself through immersion of people (aka students) into its values.  One way to do that is to engender fear and suspicion in the community (aka school) of anyone who is different.

This brings us to the issue of lawsuits and bathroom use for transfolk who are school-aged students, especially for middle and high school.  It brings up issues of support, rights, and safety, not only for the trans student, but for all students of every stripe, color, creed, race, gender, and orientation by restricting a student due to a trait or feature about said student(s).  Hence, it can be the beginning of a long and winding road of discrimination of class(es) of people.

One particular lawsuit in Virginia is winding its way to a possible Supreme Court showdown.  It is one in which there is a strong likelihood that the suit will be returned to the states due to the new Trump administration and their penchant for “traditional values”.

I don’t want to be a wet-noodle or a Debby Downer, but the efforts to secure a right to use the bathroom matching one’s gender identity is about to go on pause for a while in some states, and that would likely include Virginia.

I’m an old transwoman of over 20 years. I also counsel as an MFT those who are closeted or keeping secrets, or in an inquiry into their identity. These are not easy things to address.

Suing in federal court to identify a “right” to not be discriminated due to gender identity has moved forward by linking such suits to Title IX clauses prohibiting sex discrimination.  This linkage is thanks to the Obama administration creating rules with executive orders which altered the interpretation of sex to include gender identity.  A very logical and appropriate development, in my view.   But, forgive the pun, this area of law is still quite fluid. 

However, with this new Trump administration I believe it is extremely likely that these rules will be removed. In that case, pursuing nondiscrimination based upon gender identity does not necessarily have federal backing. And that means these battles against discrimination will return to the state level.

A law professor of mine once said, regarding suing for discrimination, that if you file suit, you better win. Because if you don’t win, you’ll not only be hurting yourself, but the entire class of people just like you.

Tread carefully. Work with the school districts to avoid going to court unless it is absolutely necessary. Consider accepting a compromise that does not demean, shame, or invoke suffering, especially if the motive of the school district is really about doing their best to protect and respect the trans student, as well as deal with other parents who act out of fears, not facts. Most of all stay safe.

Or as my father used to tell me, “It might be YOUR right. But don’t be DEAD right.” Good advice.

20 years ago when I came out, facing myself, and facing others, I made compromises in order to survive. There were no laws protecting Transfolk from any kind of discrimination.  In order to allay others’ fears. In order to keep my job. In order to have a place to live.  And in time people came around and wondered what all the fuss was about. I don’t want any of us to go back in time. But I don’t want anyone hurt, injured or killed either.

Lastly, do not take this as surrender or appeasement.  One must pick their battles while also maintaining their ability to function in the greater society.  It is sometimes a long and slow trudging process.  Moving forward is often done in small steps, through being real and allowing people to know you, and you getting your message out there in how you live your life, and how you speak about your life.

What’s At Stake For Birth Control In Upcoming SCOTUS Decision [kaiserhealthnews.org]

http://www.kaiserhealthnews.org/Stories/2014/June/13/Supreme-Court-Hobby-Lobby-contraception-birth-control.aspx

President Obama’s Inauguration Speech (Jan 21, 2013)

TRANSCRIPT OF SPEECH… [bold highlighting added by helen]

Vice President Biden, Mr. Chief Justice, Members of the United States Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens:

Each time we gather to inaugurate a president, we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution. We affirm the promise of our democracy. We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names. What makes us exceptional – what makes us American – is our allegiance to an idea, articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Today we continue a never-ending journey, to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they have never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth. The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a Republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed.

For more than two hundred years, we have.

Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free. We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together.

Together, we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce; schools and colleges to train our workers.

Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.

Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.

Through it all, we have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all society’s ills can be cured through government alone. Our celebration of initiative and enterprise; our insistence on hard work and personal responsibility, are constants in our character.

But we have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action. For the American people can no more meet the demands of today’s world by acting alone than American soldiers could have met the forces of fascism or communism with muskets and militias. No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores. Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation, and one people.

This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled our resolve and proved our resilience. A decade of war is now ending. An economic recovery has begun. America’s possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands: youth and drive; diversity and openness; an endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention. My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it – so long as we seize it together.

For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it. We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class. We know that America thrives when every person can find independence and pride in their work; when the wages of honest labor liberate families from the brink of hardship. We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American, she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own.

We understand that outworn programs are inadequate to the needs of our time. We must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government, revamp our tax code, reform our schools, and empower our citizens with the skills they need to work harder, learn more, and reach higher. But while the means will change, our purpose endures: a nation that rewards the effort and determination of every single American. That is what this moment requires. That is what will give real meaning to our creed.

We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity. We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit. But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future. For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty, and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn. We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us, at any time, may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other – through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security – these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.

We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise. That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.

We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war. Our brave men and women in uniform, tempered by the flames of battle, are unmatched in skill and courage. Our citizens, seared by the memory of those we have lost, know too well the price that is paid for liberty. The knowledge of their sacrifice will keep us forever vigilant against those who would do us harm. But we are also heirs to those who won the peace and not just the war, who turned sworn enemies into the surest of friends, and we must carry those lessons into this time as well.

We will defend our people and uphold our values through strength of arms and rule of law. We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully – not because we are naïve about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear. America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe; and we will renew those institutions that extend our capacity to manage crisis abroad, for no one has a greater stake in a peaceful world than its most powerful nation. We will support democracy from Asia to Africa; from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom. And we must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice – not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes: tolerance and opportunity; human dignity and justice.

We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.

It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote. Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country. Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm.

That is our generation’s task – to make these words, these rights, these values – of Life, and Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness – real for every American. Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life; it does not mean we will all define liberty in exactly the same way, or follow the same precise path to happiness. Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time – but it does require us to act in our time.

For now decisions are upon us, and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate. We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years, and forty years, and four hundred years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.

My fellow Americans, the oath I have sworn before you today, like the one recited by others who serve in this Capitol, was an oath to God and country, not party or faction – and we must faithfully execute that pledge during the duration of our service. But the words I spoke today are not so different from the oath that is taken each time a soldier signs up for duty, or an immigrant realizes her dream. My oath is not so different from the pledge we all make to the flag that waves above and that fills our hearts with pride.

They are the words of citizens, and they represent our greatest hope.

You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country’s course.

You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time – not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals.

Let each of us now embrace, with solemn duty and awesome joy, what is our lasting birthright. With common effort and common purpose, with passion and dedication, let us answer the call of history, and carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom.

Thank you, God Bless you, and may He forever bless these United States of America.

Transgender Warrior: The story of Birmingham’s Jody Suzanne Ford

By Julie Buckner Armstrong

Lou Reed made it seem easy. His 1972 “Walk on the Wild Side” pulled gender conversion out of the closet, on to the open road:

Holly came from Miami, Fla.,

Hitchhiked her way across the U.S.A.,

Plucked her eyebrows on the way,

Shaved her legs and then he was a she.

Jody Suzanne Ford was one of Birmingham’s first transsexuals and owned a hair salon. She was shot to death in 1977. Photo courtesy Birmingham Post-Herald.

Because Holly was a glam-rock myth, Reed didn’t cover the reality of sex change. Holly went from Miami to New York. In places like Birmingham, going from a he to a she meant more than shaving legs.

Not long after Reed’s song hit Number 16 on the Billboard charts, theBirmingham Post-Heraldprofiled Sidney McFerrin Ford’s transition to Jody Suzanne Ford. In 1977, local papers covered Ford’s death from a close-range bullet to the chest.

Details about Ford’s life are sketchy. My own memory is like that of many Birmingham residents. I got my first “big girl” haircut at Ford’s popular Five Points South salon, Ms. Sid’s Coiffures. I remember her as media sensation, not as actual person.

Mostly, I remember my mother’s nine words on the subject: “Don’t stare, it’s not polite” and “Ms. Sid looked good.” Indeed she did, as existing photographs of her show.

Salon patrons describe Ford as kind – and as a character. At 6’4” and well over 200 pounds, she commanded the rooms she walked into.

And she enjoyed doing so, says a former client named Michael.

Michael remembers a time that he and Ford ate dinner at the Social Grill after a haircut. The waitress took Michael’s drink order, gestured at Ford and asked, “What does he want?”

Ford stood up, towered over the waitress and screamed, “He, he . . . where do you see a HE?”

Ford then spent the next hour telling Michael all he wanted to know about changing from male to female.

Please click on link to continue reading the article:

http://weldbham.com/local/2012/08/02/transgender-warrior-the-story-of-birminghams-jody-suzanne-ford/

How Gender Identity May Determine the Right to Vote in 2012 [thenation.com]

by Brentin Mock / thenation.com

American companies are born as private commercial entities, but thanks to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, suddenly they can transition to human status for the purpose of influencing an election with millions of dollars. Meanwhile, thousands of actual human citizens, who’ve only transitioned gender identity, may have less influence over elections—or no influence at all—because they’ll now face heavy burdens under strict photo voter ID laws. It’s an obscene paradox.

Over 25,000 transgender American citizens may face stiff barriers to voting in the November 2012 election, according to the report “The Potential Impact of Voter Identification Laws on Transgender Voters,” released last week by the Williams Institute at UCLA’s law school. This is, by any measure, the portion of the electorate that is among the most marginalized and stigmatized, and hence probably most in need of the right to have a say in who governs their lives. But discussions on both sides of voter ID laws tend to leave out transgender citizens in discussions about who would be most adversely impacted.

I’m including myself in that critique. I briefly mentioned that transgender citizens would be impacted in myfirst Voting Rights Watch blog, but have failed to consistently talk about their burdens in subsequent blogs. We often talk about black and Latino voters, elderly and student voters, women and those with low incomes as having trouble satisfying new photo voter ID mandates, but many transgender voters will have an incredibly tough set of challenges before them if they are to have their vote counted in November. The cost of getting the appropriate ID to vote in some jurisdictions will be as high as getting surgery.

The photo voter ID laws are already unnecessary intrusions into the lives of many people of color. Those intrusions become an epic accumulation of burdens, though, for transgender people of color. According to the report, two particular races—American Indian/Alaskan Native and African-Americans—are most likely to lack identification documents (46 percent and 37 percent, respectively) that reflect their accurate gender identity.

Jody L. Herman, author of the report, used data from the Brennan Center for Justice report on voter ID laws and the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (she also co-authored) to paint a picture of what voting access will look like for transgender citizens in the nine states with strict voting laws. She found that about 88,000 transgender Americans are eligible to vote in those states in November, but roughly a third of those face possibly getting ostracized due to lacking proper ID and the crazy complicated process of obtaining ID if the government questions your gender status.

This goes beyond just trying to get ID for voting purposes. Transgender citizens have problems obtaining and updating their identification cards for any reason, especially when dealing with the government. The National Transgender Discrimination Survey—the largest survey on transgender issues in the nation—shows that 22 percent of respondents said they had been denied equal treatment by a government agency or official, with another 22 percent saying they had been harassed or disrespected in the same setting. Respondents without ID reflecting their correct gender: 41 percent. That’s also about the same percentage who said that when they presented their non-gender-matching ID when asked to show it (at a bar, airport, etc.) were harassed afterward—3 percent said they were attacked or assaulted.

When government agencies that are supposed to serve the public aren’t safe spaces for transgender people, then routine citizen activities—like getting a license—become an albatross rather than an accomplishment. Registering to drive and vote are supposed to be proud moments, but for too many transgender people, it’s something to suffer through. And then consider that some government agencies require “proof” that you actually are the gender that you say you are—in some places that means getting gender reassignment surgery, whether it’s desired or not.

“There are a myriad of state and federal laws that govern whether or how transgender citizens can update their IDs, and some of these requirements are very difficult to meet and incredibly costly,” Herman told me in a phone interview. “Not only is there the emotional and psychological aspects, but also onerous requirements, such as the requirement to have had a certain kind of surgery, and some transgender citizens can’t afford it because it’s not covered by health insurance, while some simply don’t want it.”

But if they want to vote in certain places, they may have to do it. Such surgery typically costs between$40,000 and $50,000—that’s probably the largest poll tax ever. And when the percentage of transgender citizens most likely to lack proper identity documents are those who make below $10,000 a year, for many it’s plain impossible.

These are, no doubt, discussions that went missing among policymakers as they dreamed up and passed these laws. It probably never occurred to the almost-all-white-male voter ID chorus (plus black former Alabama Representative Artur Davis) that people who lack their race, gender and sexual privilege might have troubles with these rule changes. Or maybe it did occur to them, since there is a belief among conservatives that those who aren’t heterosexual aren’t citizens worthy of basic institutions like marriage and voting. Transgender people are the “irresponsible,” who won’t get in line and fly straight, and hence don’t deserve the franchise. I mean, such people might vote for a president that bans LGBTQ housing discrimination or something.

One of the first persons I thought of when I read this report was Janet Mock. We’re not aware of any relation despite sharing last names, but I hope we are related. She’s been great at spreading awareness as a transgender advocate and writer, and I was curious of her thoughts on the report both as a transgender advocate and an African-American. She grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii, where she tells me she had no problems in terms of changing her gender marker on ID documents and birth certificates (ironically, our nation’s first black president also grew up in Hawaii and is constantly challenged on his birth certificate). However, she says she’s had plenty of other friends in other states who’ve had problems having their gender changed on ID documents.

Says Mock:

It’s this patchwork of state laws concerning documentation that hurts trans people everywhere and limits our opportunities to not only vote but to avoid discrimination when looking for a home or a job. What I find interesting about this type of voter suppression is that it’s obviously against everything we stand for as Americans and a society because it oppresses groups of marginalized Americans, telling us through these added barriers to vote, that our voices do not matter and that we do not have a say. It’s sad that the fundamental democratic right to vote and be heard is something trans people have to add to our laundry list of civic duties taken away from us simply because we choose to live our lives most authentically.

http://www.thenation.com/blog/167402/how-gender-identity-may-determine-right-vote-2012

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

by Barbara Sehr / seattlepi.com

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.”

http://blog.seattlepi.com/barbarasehr/2012/04/24/landmark-eeoc-decision-declares-i-am-human/