Posts Tagged ‘queer rights

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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24
Jul
13

Violent Homophobic Rhetoric in Ontario, or “Two brave women in Kingston are calling out some cowards.”

Letters To Kingston Lesbians Contain Bizarre, Troubling Threats (PHOTOS).

Here’s one of those items that I feel like I needed to share just to give more give more light to just how incredibly disturbing this is, and to make sure people realize that these sorts of things still go on and that our work as advocates isn’t even close to done.  A lesbian couple in Kingston, Ontario recently received some very disturbing hate mail, demanding they move out of town, or face violence. The first note is a page-long demand letter, addressed to “Lesbian Bitches,” and it lays out the plan of a supposed “small but dedicated group of Kingston residents” to force all homosexuals out of the city. They claim to have a “head office in the Deep South”, and to have successfully forced out several other people in the area, and it includes some fairly ominous threats including “You are not going to be safe at home, office or anywhere else”. A followup letter came days later (I guess they were expecting these women to just pack up and leave town in a day or two.) This is a much shorter letter addressed to “lesbos” informing them that they have purchased BB guns for their children which are intended to be used to “hunt them down” because “what better targets than you.” It ends with a note that these “fun and games” will turn “deadly serious.”

I’m just sickened by this entire thing. I’d like to think that this is the work of one or a very very small handful of truly deranged homophobes, and that swift action by the Kingston Police and the RCMP will find these idiots before this actually escalates into physical violence. I’m hoping against hope that there aren’t actually any children being indoctrinated into this kind of culture of hate and violence, and it’s all just more ploy for their sick game. But the realist in me has to admit that homophobia, even the violent and aggressive kind, is still alive and well that it’s entirely possible that some underground hate group IS operating in Kingston and legitimately threatening the physical safety of the LGBT community in that area (the letters themselves are threats enough to their psychological safety, even if they’re BS).

I applaud the response of these fantastic women, who have remained defiant in the face of these threats. They’ve peacefully protested this garbage by continuing on with their lives, publicly exposing the threats made (even writing about it on HuffPo), and packing their front porch with supportive friends and neighbors. I was really moved by the last few lines of her post about the situation:

As we make a point of facing these threats publicly, we can’t ignore the corrosive effect this all has on our imagination. It’s odd to be surrounded by all the support in the real and virtual world, and yet still think suspicious, fearful thoughts about passers-by. The deluge can happen in an instant, but climate change — both the physical and the social varieties — has been building for years. It has history behind it. So relocation offers aside, we’ll stay on our front porch with our friends, to take cover and peacefully stand our ground.

It’s sad to realize that such ugly homophobia can still pop up in an area as progressive as Ontario, but it’s reassuring to know that our community remains steadfast in it’s strength to withstand these kinds of attacks. Bravo, ladies.

17
Jul
13

A New Safe Space in Chicago, or “Service, space, and community? What a concept!”

Chicago House opens nation’s first transgender housing.

My hat is off to some really wonderful people in Chicago today. Chicago House has pulled out all the stops to set up a safe living space for at-risk trans people in the greater Chicago area called the TransLife Center. It’s part of a larger organization effort they’ve titled the TransLife Project to improve the lives of transgender individuals in Chicago. As many of you may know, housing security is a huge concern for transgender people, and we suffer from a much higher-than-average rate of homelessness. Although Chicago House is primarily a organization geared towards caring for those with HIV/AIDS, they have recently expanded their efforts with the trans community at the urging of activists within their troup. The TLC will be a space where trans people can live safely if they are need as they get on their feet (transitional housing), as well as get access to employment services and health care. I think this will be a huge boon to the community of Chicago.

I think it would be fantastic to see groups in other cities follow this model and make sure that vulnerable trans people do not fall through the cracks and end up on the street or worse. The rates of suicide and homicide for the transgender community are very high, and homelessness only increases those risks.

Kudos to you, Chicago House, for all your hard work!

09
Jul
13

GOP Move to Ban Rainbow Flag, or “Republicans will find any excuse to be a jerk to the queer community.”

Louisiana Republican Introduces Bill To Ban LGBT Rainbow Flag From Public Buildings | ThinkProgress.

Here we go again. A in Louisiana war veteran saw a picture of a Pride Flag being hoisted after the DOMA Supreme Court decision, and decided he was offended. This seemed so important to a Parish-Councilman that he decided to write legislation banning all “non-governmental” flags.

What really gets me here is that the GOP is trying to walk this back as “not against the gays.” But the words used by the offended veteran are:

 

I did not go overseas and fight for our country so that we could come back and be subject to something like that. Several of us feel that the flying of this flag is a poke in the eye of a way of life.

To me that reads of “I didn’t serve in the military and fight for our country to come back and have to see people being queer in public. Seeing that flag flying grosses us out.”

I have a great deal of respect for military personnel and the sacrifices they make. However, it doesn’t make your viewpoints any more valid or important than anyone else’s. People were hoisting the Pride Flag as a victory celebration for one of the biggest steps forward for our community in the history of this country. No other flags were taken down for the ceremony, and the Pride Flag wasn’t flown above any US flags.

Really, doesn’t Louisiana have more pressing issues than the Pride Flag? It sounds like just another excuse to kick dirt in the face of the LGBTQ community.

02
Jul
13

The GOP Can’t Let Go, or “How Republicans feel the need to proclaim their homophobic bigotry as often as possible.”

Tim Huelskamp Introduces Constitutional Amendment Banning Gay Marriage.

The ink is barely dry in the Supreme Court’s declaration that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional, and already Republicans are clamoring to enshrine anti-LGBT bigotry into the US Constitution. Congressman Heulskamp from Kansas has introduced a constitutional amendment to restrict marriage to one man and one woman throughout the US. Already, 28 Republican legislators have signed on as sponsors.

Now, given the make-up of the US Congress, and the composition of the state legislatures, this amendment has absolutely ZERO chance of passing. But the mere existence and introduction of such an item is a degree of bigotry that makes my stomach turn. Essentially, upon hearing that the Supreme Court had decided that they could no longer legally repress and discriminate against gays, these Republicans basically decided to stomp their feat like obstinate children and scream “BUT WE DON’T WANNA BE NICE!” Their homophobia is so profound that they want legal discrimination written into our Constitution. It’s sad. It’s disgusting. And they should be mocked and ridiculed for their outdated, hateful, bigoted views at every turn.

Now, we still don’t have immigration reform. We still don’t have budget agreements. We haven’t reformed the FISA Court. We have still have a jobs problem. But the GOP wants to waste more time fighting for their right to treat LGBT people like second class citizens.

Shame on you, Mr Huelskamp. And shame on all those supporting this amendment. And if the GOP leadership is foolish enough let this see even a peak of daylight, shame on them too. The voters will remember this.

26
Jun
13

A Day of Victory for Gay Marriage, or “Believe it or not, the Equal Protection clause applies to everyone, not just white, straight, cisgender people.”

DOMA ruled uncostitutional: Full Supreme Court opinion | WJLA.com.

Hollingsworth v. Parry (Prop 8) Full Text via HuffPo

So today was a big day for queer rights in the United States, but not quite as big of a day as we had hoped. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court broadly struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevented federal recognition of otherwise legal same-sex marriages, as a violation of the Equal Protection Clause. In a related matter, the Supreme Court found that a group of proponents of Proposition 8 in California (which overturned the legality of same-sex marriage in that state) did not have the legal standing to continue the appeal after the State refused to continue to defend the voter-approved initiative. The high court had the opportunity to make a wider ruling on overall legality of same-sex marriage, but chose a much narrower scope, as predicted by many court watchers.

So what does this all mean? Well, the biggest thing is means is that United State federal government will have to treat all marriages equally, no matter the genders of the couple. This means significant tax benefits, social security survivor benefits, military spouse benefits, and much more. I think it also puts some pressure on the states to re-examine their so called “Definition of Marriage” laws. For the majority opinion penned by Justice Kennedy:

DOMA’s principal effect is to identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal. The principal purpose is to impose inequality, not for other reasons like governmental efficiency.

Kennedy’s entire opinion is very indicting of the entire concept of DOMA, and I cried several times while reading it. Not surprisingly, the conservative members of the Court were sour eggs on the entire thing, and the dissenting opinions reflect their continued homophobia. From Justice Alito’s dissent:

At present, no one—including social scientists, philosophers, and historians—can predict with any certainty what the long-term ramifications of widespread acceptance of same-sex marriage will be.

Alito is invoking the age-old- and completely unfounded- homophobic worries about the “dangers” that queer people pose to society at large. Scalia, ever the charmer, reinforces his protestations from Lawerence v Texas that laws may mandate “sexual norms” and makes the same tired comparison of same-sex marriage to polygamy:

As I have observed before, the Constitution does not forbid the government to enforce traditional moral and sexual norms. See Lawrence v.Texas, 539 U. S. 558, 599(2003) (SCALIA , J., dissenting). I will not swell the U. S. Reports with restatements of that point. It is enough to say that the Constitution neither requires nor forbids our society to approve of same-sex marriage, much as it neither requires nor forbids us to approve of no-fault divorce, polygamy, or the consumption of alcohol. 

There are many more gems like this sprinkled through all the dissents.

The case involving Prop 8 in California, Hollingsworth v Perry, is a much different beast. If you don’t remember, the legislators of the State of California approved same sex marriage several years ago. Then a pack of angry, well-funded Christian Right groups pushed forward with a referendum that forced a state-constitution amendment that banned gay marriage. The entire matter ended up in Federal district court, where the proposition was a struck down. At this point, the State decided to not pursue any appeals in the matter. However, the proponents of Prop 8 pushed on with the appeals in the State’s stead. Today, the Supreme Court rules that those proponents did not have any legal standing to do so, as they were not seeking remedy for any “personal and tangible harm.” So this means that gay marriage is once again legal in the state of California, but it’s broader implications are limited. In many ways, this is a punt by the Court. The one positive thing here, however, is that reinforces the notion that the angry Christian Right activists have absolutely no standing to force the courts to continue to consider appeals on any gay-marriage decisions if the States are no longer interested in defending their “one-man-one-woman” marriage laws.

Overall, today is definitely a day to celebrate a victory for queer rights in our country, and I’m overjoyed at the progress made today. However, we we still have MANY states where gay marriage remains illegal, and many places where LGBT discrimination remains perfectly legal. So, today may be a major battle win, but the war is far from over. Let’s carry this enthusiasm onwards and continue our push for equality for all!

 




A blog about nerdy things, feminist thoughts, and queer/trans life. It's full of rants, opinions, and personal stories. I don't claim to speak for absolutely anyone but myself. Read at your own risk.

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