Wednesday, October 03, 2007
"We don't serve your kind here, get out."
"I don't rent to people like you."
"Don't even bother applying, your type isn't welcome here."
What would you do if you heard these words. Call a lawyer? Call the newspaper? Fight back? Not if you happen to be transgender, like me, because in many places that type of discrimination is completely legal. Really.
If you should see me on the street you probably wouldn't notice me. I'm a plain, soft spoken young man. But as a transgender person I carry the constant fear that I'll face harassment or discrimination, and that I have no legal recourse when prejudice comes my way. I have lost job opportunities, been turned away from renting an apartment and even been denied medical care because I am transgender.
In 2005, I had a medical emergency. The EMTs would not touch me. I was told if I wanted to ride in the ambulance, I had to strap myself into the gurney. They refused to take my vitals and called me a "freak."
I grew up in Broward County and graduated from Coral Springs High School. I'm proud of my home town because we are a community known for leadership in valuing all people. Yet our county's Human Rights Ordinance does not include four words — "gender identity" and "gender expression" — that would grant transgender citizens the basic human rights every resident deserves.
A recent editorial in the South Florida Sun Sentinel made the mistaken claim that as a transgender person, I'm already protected by our county's human rights ordinance, but that is simply not true. Here are the facts. A transgender person can be fired, denied service in restaurants and other places of public accommodation, prevented from renting or purchasing property, discriminated against and harassed in virtually every other aspect of our lives in Broward County and it's perfectly legal.
Hopefully that won't be the case for long. All over the country, cities, counties and states are deciding to protect transgender people from discrimination in employment, public accommodations and housing. And Florida is part of this trend. . . .
Yesterday, something happened that apparently never happens: the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives reversed herself. On the issue of transgender inclusion in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and U.S. Reps. George Miller (chair of the House Education and Labor Committee), Barney Frank (D-Mass.), and Tammy Baldwin (D.-Wis.) issued the following statement at 5:43 p.m. on Monday:
“After discussions with congressional leaders and organizations supporting passage of ENDA, we have agreed to schedule mark-up of the bill in the Committee on Education and Labor later this month, followed by a vote in the full House. This schedule will allow proponents of the legislation to continue their discussions with Members in the interest of passing the broadest possible bill.”
Only three days earlier, Pelosi had issued a statement supporting the bill being proposed by U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) that would have removed gender identity and expression from the legislation, leaving transgendered and gender-variant people still without protection from discrimination under federal law:
“…While I personally favor legislation that would include gender identity, the new ENDA legislation proposed by Congressman Frank has the best prospects for success on the House floor…”
The Sept. 28 statement from the Speaker’s office touched off a firestorm of protest from a host of national LGBT organizations and virtually every statewide organization, who strongly opposed the effort to strip gender identity and expression from the ENDA bill. The Speaker’s decision to delay the committee mark-up of the ‘trans-free’ ENDA bill, came about after several days of frenzied activity on the part of several organizations, including the National Center for Transgender Equality, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, the National Stonewall Democrats, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Equality Federation, and Pride At Work, among others.In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy is a member of the Equality Federation and that, as chair, I represent NYAGRA in the Federation. I’m also a member of Pride At Work, though I did not take part in the PAW organizing around this issue. PAW and the Transgender Law Center organized a vigil outside Nancy Pelosi’s district office in San Francisco, which apparently played a significant role in the Speaker’s decision on Monday to reverse herself.
Two letters to the Speaker’s office played a crucial role in the decision. One letter from the Task Force, calling on the House leadership to scrap the non-inclusive ENDA bill, was co-signed by more than 90 national, state and local organizations, from Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (P-FLAG) to BiNet USA to Equality Texas Center to Center Advocates of Milwaukee. The other, a letter from the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the coalition leading the campaign for the federal hate crimes bill, called on the House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller to cancel the mark-up scheduled for today (Tuesday). The LCCR letter was signed by 20 of its member organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Legal Momentum, People For the American Way, the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations and — crucially — the Human Rights Campaign, the largest, wealthiest, and most influential LGBT rights organization in the country. . . .
Fiona Power and Grace Abrams
Grace Abrams and Fiona Power have become the first legally recognised same-sex couple in Australia.
The Federal Government was last week forced to formally acknowledge the marriage, following a decision by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to grant a female passport to Abrams, a post-operative trans woman.
Abrams had married her long-term female partner using her male birth certificate before undergoing gender reassignment surgery in Thailand in 2005.
On her return to Australia, she was denied a passport in her new gender on the basis that she was married to a woman.
She appealed this decision by Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer in the tribunal in Sydney last month.
Abrams maintained that without a female passport she was unable to travel, contradicting both the Australian Passports Act, which states that every Australian citizen is entitled to a passport, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that everyone has the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose their residence.
This position was ultimately accepted by tribunal Deputy President, The Hon RNJ Purvis AM, QC, who instructed the Minister to issue an Australian passport to Abrams, noting her female gender.
Abrams has advised others in the same circumstance to apply for their passports now, while the decision still stands.
“There are a lot of couples in this situation who have to choose between having their gender recognised or their family,” she said.
“And that is why we went through this, to assert that this is an unfair situation and actually illegal to deny an Australian citizen a passport.
“We are the first officially, begrudgingly recognised same-sex couple and now we have to try to leverage it to force a change in the law that recognises other same-sex couples.”
Abrams’ lawyer David Shoebridge said the tribunal’s decision was a victory for common sense in the law over prejudice.
“Other transgendered people, whether they’re married or not, should now be able to get a passport without being monstered by incredulous policy positions within the department,” he said.
Greens Senator Kerry Nettle said the case set an important precedent for other transgender people.
“We know the Government is trying to make things more difficult for transgender people trying to get passports,” she said.
The Senator acknowledged that Abrams and Power now had a legally recognised same-sex marriage.
“And that is probably why the Government was fighting so hard in this court case, because they didn’t want that precedent to be set.”
Poll: Should the Government now offer same-sex marriage? Vote at www.ssonet.com.au.
Here is a sample of the more than 230 comments - reflecting a vigorous debate in the gay, lesbian and transgender communities - registered on SFGate by 6 p.m. Tuesday. To see all the comments, go to sfgate.com/ZBAG.
I think this is the saddest day I have seen in my 30 years as an out of the closet gay man. Today could have been momentous. The US Congress would have finally passed a major non-discrimination bill. Instead our so-called "leaders" allowed the process to be hijacked by the most extreme elements in our community and as a result NOTHING will be passed. The behavior of GLAAD, FLAG, etc., is like spoiled children throwing a tantrum because they didn't get everything they want for Christmas. And now we find out that HRC has also capitulated to the demands of the extremists. When there is NO gay rights bill remember who to thank.
- James Short, 44, Chico
I am a transsexual woman. To all the gay and lesbian groups who stood up and made the LGBT mean something, thank you. I love you all. I totally do. To those gays who do not understand why we are included, no we are not all hetero; roughly half of us are lesbian. Straight people generally think that all gay drag queens are transsexual, by the way, and I get called "homosexual" all the time. So yeah, it's confusing. We are a small community but many of you are a part of us; does that make sense?
- Darlie Brewster, 49, Sherman Oaks
Actually many of us identify as gay. For instance, I am a lesbian. If the TG-excluding legislation goes forward (without condemnation from the [Human Rights Campaign] , two important, devastatingly bad messages would be sent: (1) Not even the TG community's closest allies support them, so it must be OK to discriminate ("Hell, let's stomp and kill a few of 'em, too!"); (2) The HRC cannot be trusted to keep a promise it has been making for over three years, that it would never accept transgender exclusion from ENDA [Employment Non-Discrimination Act].
- Christine Beatty, 49, Los Angeles
It seems to me that 'biting the hand that feeds' at this juncture is a self-defeating exercise. I wonder to whom the gay organizers spoke prior to making this submission to our congressional representatives? I certainly hope it wasn't a unilateral decision made without the input of the greater community.
- Howard Binstock, 65, Vacaville
I am not willing to tell transgendered classmates of mine that their sexual identity rights are less important than those of the gays and lesbians and that they should wait their turn. Are you?
- Brittany Gary, 25, Oakland
I would rather see an advance on one front than seeing nothing at all being done. An anti-transgender discrimination bill can be added in a more enlightened time when Congress is less infested with conservatives.
- Bob Hughes, 57, San Francisco
Of course, all of this debate is moot. If something magical happens and the bill makes it out of both House and Senate, the president will veto it regardless of the inclusion of transgendered people. Since the bill is going to die, why not take advantage of the situation and stand together and say "We want discrimination to end for everyone!"
- Jennifer Larkin, 35, San Francisco
Prohibiting job discrimination should be enacted to protect those who work or are applying to work. Period. If a person is fired or not hired for reasons other than their ability to perform the tasks the job demands (ie. black, transgendered, toothless, Catholic - you get the picture), they ought to have recourse.
- Clinton Fein, 42, San Francisco
Baby steps may be frustrating and humiliating for some, but baby steps are progress.
- Jared Angel, 35, Kobe, Japan
In order to make real change we, as the LGBT community need a show of force. March on Washington, anyone?
- Jon Phillips, 43, New York City