Thursday, October 11, 2007

TS Successes

Guest opinion

by Gunner Scott, Holly Ryan, and M. Barusch on behalf of the steering committee of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition

As members of the LGBT and ally community, we believe that it is vital that our community hold out for an Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that provides job protections on the basis of both gender identity and sexual orientation, and to oppose any bill that leaves out part of the LGBT community. It is more important that our entire community be protected all at once than it is to gain a few inadequate protections for a select few.
Here are five reasons for why we cannot allow the legislative leadership or some LGBT leaders to support a bill with only sexual orientation protections now and wait to “come back” for gender identity protections later:

All of the leading LGBT legal organizations say that the fractured bills have additional loopholes.
Lambda Legal, GLAD, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Transgender Law Center and the ACLU put out a joint statement explaining that the proposed divided ENDA left “gaping loopholes so that no one will be fully protected against discrimination.” If the leading legal organizations are advocating against the divided bill, we cannot support this legislation.

Gender identity discrimination is not just an issue for transgender people.
Many people face discrimination in the workplace because of their gender expression, often manifested as suspicion that someone is gay or lesbian because they are perceived as too “butch” or “femme”. Women have been fired for not wearing make-up on the job. Sexual-orientation-only legislation would not cover this type of discrimination.

It is wrong to let down transgender members of our community.
Transgender people are not just baggage dragging ENDA down. Transgender people have been a part of the LGBT community and activism since the beginning. Transgender people fought at Stonewall, participated in groups like ACT-UP, and have advocated for marriage equality.

Transgender people face additional barriers in job discrimination not faced by gay, lesbian or bisexual people.
National rates of discrimination against transgender people are consistently — and outrageously — high. A review of six studies conducted between 1996 and 2006 in cities on both coasts and the Midwest showed that up to 56 percent of transgender people have been fired, and up to 47 percent denied employment, based on their gender identity.

Besides the prejudice and stereotypes commonly faced, transgender job applicants and employees are haunted by problems involving employment paperwork and identification documents that can “out” a person as having changed their name or gender, or disclose personal medical history. The Employment Eligibility Verification form requires a person to show either a passport or driver’s license and social security card to their employer when hired. If a transgender person has not changed their gender marker, they are outing their former gender to their new employer. Barriers to changing gender markers make it difficult for transgender persons to maintain documentation consistent with their gender identity. They are also “outed” by Social Security with “gender no match” letters, sent to their employer when their gender marker at hire does not match older social security records. Such outings often cost people their jobs.

Changing gender designation with the Social Security Administration, on a passport or even a Massachusetts driver’s license, requires a surgeon’s letter verifying that “sex change surgery” has been “completed.” Such policies disadvantage people who cannot undergo surgery for financial or medical reasons, or who choose not to for personal reasons. Sex reassignment surgery is very expensive, often not covered by health insurance and there is risk involved as with all surgical procedures.

Transgender persons are routinely denied the basic right to privacy about their identity, medical status and other information not pertinent to job performance, a right that all other — including gay and lesbian — employees benefit from.

Civil rights should not be traded.
It may be standard practice to compromise pending legislation in various ways in order to secure its passage, but this does not hold true for basic civil rights legislation. Would we accept equal rights for some women? Or some people of non-white race or ethnicity? How about some gay and lesbian people: Only those who conform to traditional gender stereotypes?

Please call your legislator and ask them to support only the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, H.R. 2015, as originally introduced — as a fully inclusive bill.

Barney Frank Speaks Out

Bay Windows
Thursday Oct 11, 2007

On Oct. 9 Congressman Barney Frank spoke on the floor of the House to explain his decision to split the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) into two bills, one focusing on sexual orientation and the other on gender identity, and he responded to critics of his strategy. The following are excerpts from his speech, as reported in the Congressional Record: Read the full text here.

"I know, Mr. Speaker, that there are today people who are unhappy with my position because I believe, to get to the central point here, that we have the votes to pass a bill today in the House that would ban discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation, but sadly, we don’t yet have it on gender identity. And I differ with some as to what we do about that.

"But one of the problems we have today, both on this issue, and as I will discuss in a little bit in general, is people in our society, the most deeply committed, who believe that when a politician tells them an unpleasant fact, he or she must somehow be embracing that fact. Because I have been one of those who has felt the obligation to tell my friends in the transgender community that prejudice against them is greater than prejudice against gay men and lesbians for some of the reasons I talked about, I have been asked why I am so opposed to fairness for people of transgender. ...
"Now, there is one argument, let me actually hit two arguments, that people will say as to why we shouldn’t go ahead now. One, they say, well, you know what, it’s strategic. The President is not going to sign the bill anyway. Why go ahead with sexual orientation now without transgender?

"But that argument is not being made honestly, because the argument is not that we shouldn’t go ahead and pass the bill that George Bush would veto. The position taken by the various groups that want us to kill the gay rights bill now, because we do not have the votes to include transgender, are people who say to us, never pass the bill, even if you get a Democratic President who would sign it in 2009, and you get a House and Senate majority ready to pass it in early 2009, do not protect millions of people in this country against discrimination based on sexual orientation until you can protect everybody now unprotected.

"I don’t think that’s morally a valid position, but let’s be fair. It’s not a tactical issue about whether you do it now or then. It’s do you ever do it. ...


Microsoft's sex change

Michael Wallent, soon to be Megan WallentMichael Wallent, a general manager at Microsoft, will return to work in January as Megan Wallent. He came out to colleagues as transgender last month, first in person and then by email. Wallent says he encountered nothing but support -- mixed, of course, with some awkward curiosity. That's unremarkable. Microsoft is located in the progressive Pacific Northwest, where one's less likely to raise an eyebrow at Wallent's self-discovery and more likely to worry about the politically correct term to describe it. (For the record, "sex change" is considered derogatory by many; the preferred word is "transitioning.") He's unlikely to encounter blatant transphobia on the job. He should worry instead about plain old-fashioned sexism. How will Wallent's developers react when they come to work on January 2 and it hits them: They're working for a girl?

This is a company that as of late last year counted only 100 women among its top 900 executives -- those Wallent's rank and higher. In becoming Megan, he'll only improve that ratio by 0.1 percent.

Wallent argues, passionately and convincingly, that it won't matter. His track record of shipping products -- including Internet Explorer and, more recently, the foundations of Microsoft's Silverlight Web software -- are what will count. His reputation as a thoughtful manager, he says, will matter more than his gender.

Wallent believes the stereotype of Microsoft management -- the table-pounding, chest-thumping, loudest-voice-wins culture usually caricatured as sweaty, chair-throwing, white-boy-dancing CEO Steve Ballmer -- is a thing of the past. What's prized now is a mellower meritocracy, where the best ideas bubble up to the top through managerial encouragement and support. He says the best compliment he's gotten from his charges recently is being called "Coach," one of the most nurturing labels one can put on a man. That praise may become easier when Michael becomes Megan. Goodbye, Coach; hello, Mom.

Wallent hopes that when he comes back to work, "maybe there are some questions, and then we move on and I keep doing the work I've been doing for 11 years." But at 6'2", Megan Wallent will cut a striking figure.

A question not for Wallent, but for his company: Can a woman, transgendered or otherwise, thrive at Microsoft? Has the culture moved away from its testosterone roots and embraced a way that's more friendly to women as managers? In a few weeks, Megan Wallent will find out for herself. . . .

Transsexual Regret

Do transsexuals get a second chance in the great gender-identity sweepstakes?

By Ashley Harrell

Published: October 11, 2007

For the first time since he packed Michelle's things away, Michael Berke tugs the cord of the attic door above his garage. Surrounding him in the suburban Delray Beach garage are power tools, bicycles, sandpaper, and a lawn mower, though Berke's prized possession — a Harley — is in the shop at the moment.

Berke, who is 43, looks the biker-dude part. He's a solid six-footer in a black cutoff T-shirt, Harley jeans, the beginnings of a Fu Manchu, tattoos, and a freckled, clean-shaven head. He climbs the wooden ladder and, in one final, creak-inducing impetus, heaves himself into the attic.

It's mostly Michelle's stuff up here, Berke says, looking around reflectively. Just before Michelle disappeared, she gave it away to a friend, Rachael Balentine, who some day will come to claim it. Balentine has apparently hit the accessories jackpot.

"She [Michelle] had so many purses and things," Berke says, unsealing a blue plastic bin. He lifts out a knee-high black XOXO boot and studies it. "These were Michelle's favorite pair of shoes," he says, petting the leather.

He reaches into a white plastic bag and retrieves a magenta alligator purse from Guess. Michelle had Chanel shoes to match, he remembers. There was also the zebra-print jacket, with fake pink blood on it and the pink lining. Michelle loved wearing pink.

Really, she just loved to shop, Berke says. Over the year and a half that she ruled Berke's life, she bought 45 pairs of strappy high-heels, mostly from DSW. For bras, she always opted for Victoria's Secret. Everything she bought had to be tight, vibrant, and provocative.

Berke wishes that he had more pictures of her in those stunning outfits. Or a bottle of Michelle's elegant Incanto perfume. He can almost hear her gravelly voice, making those offbeat jokes. "Hickory, dickery, dock — I got tits and a cock," she used to say. He'll even miss her impulsive spending.

"She bankrupted me," Berke says with a smile. . . .