Posts Tagged ‘LGBT

03
Apr
17

Spoken Word Piece, TDoV 2017 at University of Michigan: Visibility Has Failed Us

This is a spoken-word piece I first performed when hosting the University of Michigan’s Transgender Day of Visibility Speak-Out event on March 31st, 2017.

**********************

They told us visibility would save us.

We were told for so long that if we could just get people to see us, if we only took off our invisibility cloaks and let people get a good long look at who we really are, that we’d finally have a place in the world.

After all, it worked for gay people. Kind of. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual folks came out in massive waves and suddenly it seemed a lot harder to hate the gays because they were your next door neighbors, your tax account, your school principal. They starred your movies, wrote your TV shows, and produced your Broadway musicals. It should be the same for trans people, right?

Except it wasn’t like that.

They saw us, and they immediately hated us even more.

They saw the way we undermined the system that hold so close to their hearts, to the notion that is so intrinsic to their being that even looking at us makes them want to hurt us…the immutable, inviolable, absolute binaries of sex and gender.

And the idea that we had been quietly moving among them for years without anyone so much as noticing, that we had been next to them at the grocery store, sitting in the same movie theater, eating the same restaurants, attending the same schools, working in the same offices…

WE HAD BEEN PISSING RIGHT NEXT TO THEM IN THEIR BATHROOMS FOR YEARS AND THEY NEVER EVEN KNEW WE WERE THERE.

They saw us and and they panicked, unable to cope with a new vision of the world where one can no longer know how a person’s genitals and chromosomes are shaped at a simple glance. They didn’t shift their worldview to find a space for us. They decided to make the world fit what they needed, by killing us through violence, discrimination, marginalization, and neglect.

Visibility has failed us.

Yup. There, I said it.

Visibility has failed trans people.

It failed us because it’s based on the false assumption that we could somehow turn ourselves into something palatable and consumable by cisgender people, that we could have the agency to turn visibility into a way of setting our narrative, that we could make transness “normal”, that we could prove to cis people that we are just like them.

For many of us, visibility was never a choice anyway. The visibility narrative is based on the idea that all trans people can choose to fade into the crowd if we so choose, and so that visibility becomes a thing for empowerment and self-definition.

But for so many of us, visibility isn’t a choice. Those can’t or won’t assume cisnormative appearances and behavior will always be marked. For those without access to the shields of whiteness, of affluence, of ability, visibility is an everyday reality…and the sudden rising paranoia about our mere existence has painted a target on their backs that is is too indelible to scrub off.

Visibility as a mechanism for our liberation never had any hope for anyone but the whitest, wealthiest, and most cisnormative looking trans people, and it left the rest of us in the dust.

And so, I’m here to reclaim my visibility for myself and for my trans siblings.

I’m putting cis people on notice. My transness isn’t something constructed for your consumption, and my outness doesn’t exist for your education, your edification, or your self-congratulatory allyhood.

I am not your object of fascination,

I am not your walking fetish,

I am not your ticket to progressive credibility,

and I am definitely not your free fount of information on all things trans.

 

I am not for you to stare at. (And believe me, we feel it when you stare.)

 

My visibility isn’t for you.

My visibility is for every trans woman whose only experience with transness is in daytime talk-shows, right-wing propaganda, dead girls on Law & Order:SVU, and bad porn.

My visibility is for the 16 year trans girl still desperately trying to find a way to tell her parents that the lurching forward of her testosterone-fueled puberty makes her want to die.

My visibility is for the fat trans girl who thinks that she’s the only chubby trans girl in the whole world and that she can’t ever be beautiful in her own skin.

My visibility is for my black trans sisters who feel like not one single voice in the media has their back or cares whether they live or die.

My visibility is for the middle-aged trans woman who is still in the closet, who needs to hear my story, to find some piece of it that resonates with her so that her journey to herself can finally begin.

My visibility is for every college-age trans girl who is terrified that there’s no life after college, that no one from our community ever finds success and happiness.

My visibility is for the trans lesbian who’s struggling with the validity of her sexuality because lesbian culture still equates being a dyke with having a vagina.

My visibility is for the neurodivergent trans girls, the disabled trans girls, the chronically ill trans girls who are wondering if transition and disability are things that can coexist.

My visibility is for every single baby trans girl who I’ve mentored over the last half-decade, who needed a mother-figure or a big sister to make a big hateful world seem a little less cold and dark.

My visibility for every trans girl who has taken her own life because the world just seemed too terrible and dangerous and unwelcoming.

My visibility is for me, for scared, lost 18 year old me, who would have given anything in the world to see a pretty young trans woman in real life, to meet even one person like her, to have someone tell her about the journey to being herself, to make it seem like something that was truly achievable instead of some impossible mountain to climb.

18
Jan
17

Trans Awareness Week Opening Speech at University of Michigan, November 2016

This is a short speech I gave to help kick off the Trans Awareness Week programming at the University of Michigan’s Spectrum Center in November of 2016, where I had the honor of introducing the amazing Tiq Milan.
As we open our Trans Awareness Week programming, we find ourselves a community standing at a precipice. Indeed, the wider world is more aware of the existence of transgender people than it ever has been. We have made tremendous gains in visibility in just a few short years, moving from quiet obscurity to a focus of the national political discourse.
Unfortunately, that kind of visibility has also placed us firmly in the crosshairs of the right-wing machine of hate that has whipped our neighbors into a panic over something as simple as using a restroom. It’s made us the enemy of a new presidential administration that is hell-bent on promoting a culture of hate and destroying the small amount of political progress we’ve clawed for ourselves and our young people under President Obama. It’s also placed trans women of color more literally in crosshairs, with 2016 standing as the most deadly year yet for the campaign of violence against our black trans sisters.
With that in mind, I believe it’s time for a shift in goals for Trans awareness work. We can no longer afford to simply work for the wider world to know that we exist.  We need the LGBTQ community to be aware that we’re still struggling, and we’re still at risk, and that the fight didn’t end with marriage equality. We need people to be aware that we’re not predators, not perverts, and not broken or sick.
We need people to be aware that we face horrifying levels of harassment, discrimination, poverty, and violence.
We need people to be aware that we are a community of breath-taking diversity, both of body and of spirit. We are creators, writers, artists, innovators, activists, lifesavers, caretakers, teachers, students, laborers, and we are friends, lovers, parents, siblings, and families. We need people to be aware that we are beautiful as we are, both inside and out.
More than anything, We need people to be aware that we’re actually living, breathing human beings deserving of respect, care, concern, and love as much as any other person. And just an importantly, we need other trans people to know all those things too.
22
Jan
15

The Ten Worst Things About Being The Token Lesbian Of Your Social Circle

Sometimes, through no fault of your own, you just end up being the token lesbian in a circle of friends. It’s not that you don’t have queer lady friends, it’s that in certain parts of your social network, you’re the sole sapphic representative. For me, it’s that my lady-loving lady friends are kinda spread all over the US, whereas most of my local friends are straight girls and gay dudes. Don’t get me wrong, I love them all to death. But, sometimes there are just things about being the lone rainbow-licker that aren’t super fun, and those things make me want to drink. A lot.

1. You’re the Official Representative™ of the entire queer women’s community.

If a question comes up about the peculiarities of queer lady culture, you’re expected to answer for it. No, I don’t know know why so many lesbians drive Subarus. If something even moderately note-worthy happens to a queer women, you’re expected to have a statement prepared. Sorry, I forgot to check my inbox for the official Gay Girl Nation press release on all of today’s news. Oh, and of course, there’s the “is that a lesbian thing?” question.

Sorry, I just don't know.

Sorry, I just don’t know.

 

2. While they will share all manner of TMI about the all the straight or gay-dude sex they’re having, they turn completely green at the slightest detail of lesbian sex.

Seriously, I know WAY more about the penises of my straight friends’ boyfriends than I ever wanted to. I’ve heard entire oratories about the glories of huge dick. I know just how good (or not good) most of my friends are getting fucked at any given moment. It’s cool— we’re friends, so a little TMI is to be expected. But, one mention of a particularly toe-curling moment in my own bedroom sends them screaming with their hands clamped over their ears. Seriously, it’s just fucking. Ours just doesn’t rely on a fickle appendage.

Are you being serious right now?

Are you being serious right now?

3. They ask for advice about their relationships, even though you have zero understanding how to date or deal with dudes.

I find no particularly pride in my “Gold Star” status; it’s pretty much by accident that I never had sex with a guy before figuring out it wasn’t my thing. Nonetheless, I just really understand absolutely nothing about hetero dating dynamics. Frankly, I’m absolutely baffled you all don’t murder each other. And guy/guy dynamics? You might as well be be space aliens.

 

There's no way you thought I'd actually understand this, right?

There’s no way you thought I’d actually understand this, right?

 

4. They assume you must love Ellen/The L Word/The Indigo Girls/Other Stereotypical Lesbian Thing.

Yeah okay, I have a few stereotypically lesbians tastes. I have an unabashed love of cats, Tegan and Sara, IKEA kitsch, and cheap red wine. But, I can honestly say that I’ve never seen a single episode of the The L Word, and I have pretty meh feelings about Ellen Degeneres. Just because it’s gay doesn’t mean I’m into it.

5. They feel they need to press you onto the butch/femme spectrum.

I have no problem if you’re butch or femme. You do you. But, I’m neither butch nor femme. I’m just Mari. Some days, I wear adorable vintage dresses and pin-curl my hair and use lipstick. Some day, I wear jean shorts, a tank top, a sports bra, and a fuck-off look on my face. Those are not “butch days” or “femme days”. Those are just Mari being Mari. I can’t be simplified is such black-and-white terms, and lots of other queer ladies can’t either. Movies have lied to you.

 

You really think it works that way?

You really think it works that way?

6. You have to hear constantly about how weird/strange/gross vaginas/vulvas are.

I get it. You don’t like vaginas. That’s cool— it means more for us. But, I hear so many of straight-girl friends tell me that they’re horrified by their OWN lady business. Come on, ladies…they’re attached to you. Grab a mirror and get over that internalized misogyny that leads to terror at the thought of you own genitals. Don’t even get me started on how I’ve heard my gay-dude friends describe the vulva. Seriously, there are no teeth or tentacles involved.

Seriously, how are you afraid of your genitals?

Seriously, how are you afraid of your genitals?

7. The absolute disasters that occur when they try to set us up on dates.

Remember how I said I didn’t know fuck-all about hetero dating? Well, you know about as much about queer dating. I know you’re just trying to be helpful, but I really don’t need you to give my phone number/facebook/email to every lesbian you meet. That’s how I end up with stalkers.

Really? You gave ANOTHER random girl my number?

Really? You gave ANOTHER random girl my number?

8. When you finally get to go out to a non-straight bar, and it’s 300 shirtless gay dudes, 6 straight girls, and you.

Good lesbian bars are few and far between, and trying to convince straight girls or gay guys that it’s a fun destination for a Friday night is like selling evolution textbooks in Kansas. Sure, they’ll tell you the club you’re heading to is “pan-queer” and it has a “good mix of people”. But, when you get there, it’s like an Abercrombie catalog with strobe lights, and you spend the whole night drinking tequila shots and trying to avoid getting boy-sweat on your favorite club top.

The only solution is more shots.

The only solution is more shots.

9. Two words: Fashion Advice.

I know straight girls and gay guys are often super-aware of what exactly is “in” this season, and I know you don’t understand why I feel the need to wear Dr Martens with EVERYTHING. It’s my thing, and you’re just going to have to deal with that. I think I look awesome. Don’t tell me I need Spanx, or that I’m wearing too much eyeliner, or that I should straighten my hair. I might be nice if you’re a girl trying to be helpful, but you need to grasp that queer girls just tend to have a different view on what looks good. Oh, and if you’re a gay guy, I can promise that the moment you criticize my attire, I’m looking for something heavy to throw at you.

What I think of UGGs and leggings.

When you suggest I wear UGGs and leggings.

10. We sometimes have to experience the penis horror show that is a straight girl’s bachelorette party.

I will never understand the need to have a giant penis-themed party right before you wedding. Penis candy, penis cake, penis jewelry, and don’t forget *shudder* male strippers. Why can’t we just look hot, go dancing, and drink too much champagne and leave the phalluses out of it? Or, just don’t invite the gay girl so she doesn’t have feel obligated to awkwardly participate in your dong-related shenanigans.

MichelleObama_ewww

Bonus: We have to endure a never-ending stream of drunken attempts at drunken “experimentation.”

I’m not saying that all straight girls get a little queer-experimental after their third vodka-cranberry, but the sheer number of times that straight friends have tried to kiss me or grope me when they’ve had a few is pretty damn telling. I get it— lowered inhibitions and the feeling of reduced responsibility are a heady combination. Flattering as might be at times, we’re people with feelings and sex drives, and you aren’t likely to do anything but leave both of those things frustrated. Oh, and if your boyfriend is watching while you pull that move, we’re not friends anymore.

 

28
Feb
14

On Being a Manic Pixie Queer Girl, or “Just because you’re queer doesn’t mean you can’t fall into being a cliche.”

(Note: This is a piece that I had finished about 90% of back in July, but never got around to completing. I came across it today, and decided it was worth finishing and posting. Enjoy!)

I try to not be shy about admitting my faults and general fuck-ups. Chief among these faults is a tendency to be a little too arrogant about my own self-understanding and insight. Sometimes, this leads to moments where I feel totally foolish, and I ran into yet another of these moments this recently. The whole “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” concept as both a media trope and a cliche of female dating behavior seems to get a lot of coverage in the blogonets. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it stems from a stock movie character whose sole function is to bring fun, adventure, personal growth, and a change in heart to the otherwise sullen, mournful, boring male lead. She uses her charming quirkiness, her non-mainstream interests and hobbies, and her off-beat sense of humor to be a mechanism for change for the male protagonist, without ever really having any motivations or needs of her own. She probably dresses idiosyncratically, has some kind of interesting speech pattern, has funky bangs, and owns a cat she talks to in an embarrassing sort of way.  Some of the best known examples include Natalie Portman’s character in Garden State, Romona in Scott Pilgrim vs The World, and Kate Winslet’s character in Eternal Sunshine on a Spotless Mind. (Zoey Deschanel’s character in 100 Days of Summer actually turns this entire trope on its head and is worth a watch.) Sadly, as such a common stock character in film and television, the behaviors and expectations are frequently emulated by real-life women when dating, and even more often, subtly pressed onto women by men. Now, as a queer woman who doesn’t date cisgender men, I always thought myself above such frivolous cliches. After all, I thought, aren’t these stereotypes about STRAIGHT relationships? I’m so much more insightful and self-aware! I would never allow myself to fall into such behavior; I am just too worldly and smart for that. Yeah, like I said, sometimes I’m a right arrogant idiot.

But, the other day I was reading this piece and something caught in my brain. Something about her experiences rang just a little too close to home for me. Now, I’ve been out and open about my gender identity to all of my partners since I was about 21, and as a result, I’ve not had to put on much of a “false front” of masculinity when it comes to long-term dating situations, so I can’t even make the excuse of it being a side-effect of trying to live/date passably as male. As a young adult, I made the pretty standard dumb dating mistakes that just come with the limited maturity you have when you’re 20-22. During much of my mid-to-late twenties, I moved onto what I considered to be more mature adult relationships. But, these situations always seemed to play out in the same way: meet someone, have an exciting year together, everything stagnates and falls apart, things end. Rinse, repeat. I definitely noticed the pattern after a few times, but I always chalked it up to “well, they just weren’t the right person.” But as this same pattern played out over and over again- often with the same fights, the same difficulties, and always the same ending- I began to re-examine myself and my own behaviors; after all, the common denominator here there was me. I had thought I had picked out the problem back then…that I was choosing relationships that were “projects” because I felt powerless to do anything to fix myself. And so I resolved to stop such things, and focus on making myself better and choosing relationships with more appropriate balance and boundaries. In hindsight, I had missed a major part of what had always been going on, and it would crop up again even as I made different choices in partners.

As it turns out, I had been placing value on the wrong parts of myself. As I worked through my self-esteem issues, I had chosen to focus on what I felt were my positive, attractive qualities- namely that I was intelligent, had a wide variety of interests, and did interesting things with my life. The problem here is that as I applied this to dating, I strove to attract people not with who I was, but on the experience they would have with me, and what I could for their lives. Sound familiar? From the above-mentioned article:

    I’m a bit strange and sensitive and daydreamy, and retain a somewhat embarrassing belief in the ultimate decency of humanity and the transformative brilliance of music, although I’m ambivalent on the Shins. I love to dance, I play the guitar badly, and I also – since we’re in confession mode, dear reader, please hear and forgive – I also play the fucking ukelele. Truly. Part of the reason I’m writing this is that the MPDG trope isn’t properly explored, in any of the genres I read and watch and enjoy. She’s never a point-of-view character, and she isn’t understood from the inside. She’s one of those female tropes who is permitted precisely no interiority. Instead of a personality, she has eccentricities, a vaguely-offbeat favourite band, a funky fringe.

While I don’t play the guitar, and I only kind of play the ukulele, the above paragraph is a pretty succinct description of me at 26. As it turns out, I had turned myself into a supporting character in my own life, and in the interest of attracting partners and maintaining relationships, I subverted all of my own needs. When someone dated me, it wasn’t me as a person they were buying into, but me as an experience. But, as it turns out, when you present yourself as the adventure vacation of romantic partners, that’s exactly how people treat you. As long as there are novel experiences to be had, and life-changing personal growth to acquire, they’re head-over-heels excited to be with you. You’re the month-long backpacking tour of Asia they’ve been dying to take their whole lives.  But as soon as you’ve shown them all you can, and helped them grow as much as you’re able, there’s nothing left to hold the relationship together. Vacation spots are escapes, after all. No one stays on vacation forever because they’re not invested in that place, they just want the experience that place provides. And even more so, because you’re an experience and not a person, you become terribly invested in providing it…you twist yourself in ways to hide the flaws that don’t fit within the “experience”, never really allowing yourself to be the “real” you. Only main characters get to have flaws and be dynamic, and a MPDG is never a main character, and any part of her that doesn’t advance the storyline is unimportant.  And so it went for me, a long line of partners who never really knew me, but who were always so grateful for all I’d shown them, always telling me that I had changed their lives forever and made them better people…right after which they’d take their improved-self and move on to someone else (and in my case, very frequently marry that person). I was, in essence, the Manic Pixie Queer Girl, my own LGBT-ified version of a classic movie trope.

It’s easy to see how I ended up being a Manic Pixie Queer Girl. As a MPQG, you have lots of torrid, passionate romance and a seemingly-never-ending stream of fun with different people. For a while, especially for someone who spent a lot of life feeling pretty unwanted, it feels amazing to have people so enamored with you. It’s intoxicating to have people infatuated with you.  But looking back, I never got much out of those relationships, aside from sex and temporary companionship. No one ever *really* saw me, or loved me, or cared for me. They had no real interest in who I was inside- my goals, my aspirations, my fears, my perspective. They gave me no real support, and I never grew from the experience. It’s a life that’s lonely in its own specific kind of way, and ultimately just depressingly unfulfilling. I was never the love of anybody’s life, just a temporary, exhilarating stop-over.  In the end, I was just a vehicle for change in their lives, a secondary character that drives their own story forward- just as so many Manic Pixie Dream Girls in a hundred Hollywood films.

So, what’s a Manic Pixie Queer Girl to do? Well, the first step is for her to recognize that she was right prat for arrogantly thinking the whole thing was impossible. After that, it’s to step into her own spotlight, of course. Take charge, and be willing to be the main character in her own story. And, so I have. I’ve stopped selling myself as “The Mari Experience” to potential romantic interests, and I’ve shied off the folks who give indications that they view that way.  I’ve given up on being everyone’s summer-in-Europe of relationship partners, and I no longer view it as any part of my job to ensure that people evolve, or to save them from their boring lives. I’ve stopped hiding my flaws, instead choosing to express them as simply part of the whole, complete, three-dimension, dynamic person that I am. I’m still quirky, still weird, still living my own little unique existence. But, when I bring new people into it, it’s no longer as “let me show you all these cool things that will make your life more interesting”, but instead “let me share all these things that I love with you, because they’re important to me and I want you to be a part of the things I love.” Most of all, I’ve stopped looking for partners who can grow from me, and instead started looking for partners who can together grow with me. I’m not here to change anyone’s life. I’m just here to live mine, and I’m hoping to share the ride with someone who loves all of me- quirks, flaws, bangs, ukulele and all.

25
Feb
14

Arizona’s SB1062 Would Have Dangerous Consequences, Faces Backlash or “The Arizona GOP continues to get things very, very wrong.”

The state of Arizona, or at least its legislature, is once again on the anti-queer bandwagon. After last year’s embarrassing fiasco where they attempted to legislate where trans people are allowed to void their bladders, one might have hoped they had learned their lesson. But, the GOP being who it is, they’ve opted to turn their queerphobia up to eleven with their latest jab at the LGBTQ community, SB1062.

SB1062, an amendment to the state’s current statutes on “the free exercise of religion,” codifies a person or company’s right to refuse service to anyone on the basis of their religion without fear of reprisal from government agencies and regardless of any local ordinances to the contrary. It appears to stem from a string of recent incidents around the country where businesses have been sanctioned for refusing service to queer individuals. It’s been approved by both chambers of the Arizona legislature, and it current awaits a signature from GOP Gov. Jan Brewer, who has given little indication of her position on the legislation.

 Previously, this statute granted this right to refuse service based upon religious objection only to any “religious assembly or institution”, but the revised statute would read:

“Person” includes a religious assembly or institution ANY INDIVIDUAL, ASSOCIATION, PARTNERSHIP, CORPORATION, CHURCH, RELIGIOUS ASSEMBLY OR INSTITUTION, ESTATE, TRUST, FOUNDATION OR OTHER LEGAL ENTITY.

This grants the ability of essentially organization, business, or person to access the particular protections of this statute (because really, there aren’t many things that don’t fall into those categories. The particulars of the statute read as such:

41-1493.01. Free exercise of religion protected; definition

4 A. Free exercise of religion is a fundamental right that applies in this state even if laws, rules or other government actions are facially neutral.

7 B. Except as provided in subsection C of this section, state action shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.

The key portion of that pile of legalese is “even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.” Rules of general applicability is a term that stems from a landmark Supreme Court case involving the free exercise of religion clause of the First Amendment, known as Employment Division, Department of Human Resources vs Smith. In it, the Court ruled that a person could not claim exception from a law based upon one’s religious beliefs if the law created rules that were of “general applicability”, that is-that they weren’t particularly targeted to religion or specific religious groups. This means that, as a general rule, people cannot claim exemption from things like employment, housing, or healthcare non-discrimination laws simply because of their particular religious beliefs. However, the proposed Arizona law would specifically enshrine the right of people within that state to ignore essentially ANY state law if they can ground it in their particular religious convictions.

So, what are the implications of a law like this? It means a corporation can adopt a particular religious doctrine and use it to deny service to LGBT individuals. It means religious hospitals can refuse to treat LGBT people. It means perfectly legal “No Gays Allowed” signs on businesses owned by anti-queer religious people. It means pharmacies being able to legally refuse to fill HIV meds, birth control, emergency contraception, and hormones for trans people if the pharmacy or it’s owners have specific religious views.  It could be interpreted to mean that police officers wouldn’t be required to assist LGBT individuals if their personal religious beliefs would be violated in doing so. It would absolutely mean that religious doctors or other healthcare professionals could deny life-saving pregnancy termination procedures to women if it violates their religious beliefs. Given that many racial hate groups use religion to justify their racism, it could mean that companies or organizations could use this law to refuse service to racial minorities Taken to extremes, it could even be used as a potential defense in violent hate crimes (after all, the Bible makes clear that homosexuality [along with lots of other things] is punishable by death), or as a justification for legalized spousal rape or beating (since there’s justification for both in the Bible).

Not surprisingly, the bill has received a huge amount of backlash from everything from feminist and LGBT activists concerned about how the law will be used, to business owners who are concerned that it will have wide reaching effects of tourism in Arizona (a large force in their economy). George Takei wrote a length missive calling for a boycott of Arizona if the bill is signed, and that call has been echoed loudly in the LGBT community. The mayors of Arizona’s largest cities, both of their sitting Senators, and a large contingent of their members of Congress have called of Gov. Brewer to veto the bill. Leaders of the state’s largest business groups wrote to Brewer imploring veto, concerned about opening businesses to potential litigation and having the state branded an unfriendly place for visitors. And in just the last few days, even three member of the state legislature who voted in favor of the bill have come forward urging a veto on the measure, calling passage of the measure a “mistake.’

In the wake of this much pressure, it seems somewhat unlikely that Gov. Brewer would be willing to sign the legislation into law. However, the fact that the bill hit the governor’s desk at all is a very disturbing reminder of to just what lengths the GOP is willing to go to attack the LGBT community. Unfortunately, this is also far from an isolated incident. Similar bills attempting to enshrine the legal right to discriminate using a smoke-screen of religious liberty have been introduced in Ohio ,Idaho, Mississippi, and several other states recently, though none have yet progressed as far as the legislation in Arizona.

Despite the progress made in areas like marriage equality, the fight for equal rights and equal protections for LGBT individuals is FAR from over, and it appears that this new round of “religious objection” legislation represents the Republicans’ next volley in the pushback against the progress that has been made in the movement for equality for queer people.

 

 (Author’s note:  This is a significant simplification of the case law here, interpreted and explained by a scientist, not a lawyer.)

29
Jan
14

Obama’s State of the Union Address Ignores ENDA (and more), or “Remember when the President stood up for trans rights in front of Congress? Yeah, me neither.”

In tonight’s State of the Union address, President Obama talked extensively about jobs and the economy. He discussed immigration reform. He touted the success of the Affordable Care Act. He devoted several minutes to discussing current foreign policy situations. He touched on education, tax reforms, and pressed for an increase in the federal minimum wage. Sadly, he left a number of critical issues completely untouched- chief among them the concerns of the LGBT community and the languishing of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, commonly known as ENDA.

Oh sure, he gave the minimum of lip service to our existence in his brief mentions of “marriage equality” and later his hat-tip to “sexual orientation” in his statement about equality in regards to the upcoming Olympic games in Sochi. Meanwhile, in 29 states it remains perfectly legal to fire (or refuse to hire) someone because they’re gay, lesbian or transgender. 33 states offer no protections to transgender workers. According to the most recent report from the National Center for Transgender Equality, 90% of transgender workers have experienced some form of harassment. Nearly half (47%) had been fired, had not been hired, or had missed out on a promotion because they are trans, including 26% who had been actually lost their jobs. Because of the persistent discrimination and transphobia in the US, losing our jobs has even more catastrophic effect than it does for the straight, cis population, leading to four times the rate of extreme poverty, and four times the rate of homeless (1 in 5 trans people will be homeless at some point in our lives). Most heartbreaking of all, 41% of trans people will attempt suicide at some point in their lives, more than 25 times the risk of the general population.

These bleak facts stem for a systemic, entrenched anti-trans bias within the entirety of the US economic system, from education to the workforce. While we have lots of work to do to disassemble this bias, comprehensive workplace protections for transgender individuals (and indeed, all LGBT people) would provide a large measure of stability and would represent a huge leap forward in trans rights. Congress has an excellent opportunity to enact such protections, though S. 815, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) of 2013. The proposal passed the Senate in November 64-32, including three yes votes from Republicans. While Congress has previously considered similar bills, this marks the first time such a bill containing protections for trans people has gained final passage in a chamber of Congress. All indications are that- if allowed to come to a vote on the House floor- the bill would pass, and President Obama has indicated that he would sign it. So what’s keeping this critical legislation from passing? The unwillingness of Speaker John Boehner to allow a vote, as he views it as “unnecessary” (I’d be willing to bed the 1 in 4 trans people who’ve been fired would handily disagree). Unfortunately, the rules of the House make it nearly impossible to circumvent the Speaker’s block on the vote.

So, back to Obama’s State of the Union Address. President Obama prodded the members of Congress towards action on a number of issues, including extending unemployment benefits, increasing the federal minimum wage, closing tax loopholes, and funding preschool education. Unfortunately, he entirely failed to prod Congress on the final passage of ENDA. Job protections for LGBT people are not a particularly controversial topic for the public at large. A poll by the Center for American Progress back in 2011 demonstrated that nearly 3 of 4 Americans support workplace protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals, including a majority of Republicans. More troubling is that 90% believe these protections already exist. So, we have a policy that the majority of Americans- and a majority of Congress- supports (indeed that most think already exists) that won’t become law because of one single legislator’s objections. The State of the Union seemed like the perfect opportunity to press for action on such an item. Mr Obama could have very publicly called on Boehner to allow such a vote (either directly, or indirectly). The President could have promised to sign an executive order to require protections for LGBT people in all federal contractors as an additional pressure, much as he did with the federal contractors and minimum wage. President Obama’s press office included such items in his pre-address “fact sheet”, but that’s a far cry from a expression of public support in a major address. When the President took the podium, all we heard was a deafening silence on one of the most critical issues facing us today.

Some might argue that it’s a fairly “minor issue”, affecting a small number of Americans, and not worthy of the President’s limited speech time. However, as a comparison, roughly 1.6 million people recently lost their unemployment benefits, about 0.5% of the population by my estimate. LGBT identified folks make up about 4% of the US population by current estimates, more than 8 times as many who would benefit from the far-more controversial unemployment extension. However, that issue was found worthy of mentioning at length in his speech. Returning to the minimum-wage issue for a moment, about the same number (1.6 million) of individuals currently make minimum wage (per Bureau of Labor Statistics)  as recently lost unemployment checks. And yet, raising the federal minimum wage was a key issue in Obama’s address. Don’t misunderstand me, I believe these are both very important and worthwhile issues and they certainly warranted being discussed in the President’s speech. But in sheer numbers, the passage of ENDA impacts a greater number of people, and it’s nonsensical to argue that we’re comparatively insignificant minority.

I could take the President to task for many oversights in his address, from drug policy to criminal justice to reproductive rights to proper funding for the NIH. However, his failure to press for action for such basic protections that could do so much to improve the lives of trans (and other LGBT) individuals is absolutely inexcusable, particular given that that ENDA enjoys wide support with Americans and has functionally zero fiscal implications. If this version of ENDA dies in the House without reaching the President’s desk, it will represent an enormous missed opportunity to provide trans and queer people with something most have never had- a chance to live their lives without fear of losing their livelihoods and incomes simply for being who they are. The simple fact is, Mr Obama had the opportunity to take a groundbreaking step in going to bat for the LGBT population in his address (and, in doing so, keep a key campaign promise). However, as has become so common a theme in his administration, President Obama left queer and transgender Americans out in the cold.




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