Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Congress comes out to the Transgender Community - Part 3

Angela Brightfeather has been an activist for the transgender community is some form or another for the last 42 years. Some of our community’s activists weren’t even born then. She has been on the board of NTAC, It’s Time, North Carolina and the several other organizations too numberous to mention. Currently, she serves as the Vice President of the Transgender American Veterans Association (TAVA) and is one of its Co-Founders.

“Our Opposition Testifies Against Us”

Before I report on the opposition, I need to mention the testimony of Dr. Bill Hendricks of the Dow Chemical Company, who was a witness from the corporate sector. He addressed the hiring of Transgender employees and Dow’s perspective about what has happened to them.

During his testimony, I could not help but think of the work that is being done all over the country today in corporations and businesses to broaden their HR policies to include Transgender people. I specifically want to mention the work done along those lines by Donna Rose and Jamison Green, who felt compelled to “draw the line” when it came to what we used to call “biting the apple.” They recruited the favor of many HR executives in their work on behalf of our community.

I appreciate a company like Dow and many others being inclusive. I also know that they are obtaining loyal, hard working and intelligent employees in the process, people who also really appreciate their jobs.

With 48,000 employees, working in 150 countries across the world, I was rather set back to hear that they have only experienced one person transitioning. I could not help but wonder about that single employee who transitioned at Dow since 2005. That would be two and a half years, give or take a few months. I may be stepping on a few toes here in saying that it is strange for a company of 48,000 employees to have only one Transgender person who they know about, when they probably have hundreds of Transgender people working for them. I heard this perspective echoed throughout the hearing. Most people feel that the only real Transgender people who are discriminated against are those who wish to transition on the job. This assumption is ridiculous.

Dr. Hendricks read from a script, so I am not sure how the body of his address was put together or how much input Transgender groups made in coaching him. But, I feel that they missed an important point and an important opportunity for a major corporation to state that they know they have hundreds of Transgender employees and that they would not fire them if did come out. Dow would go on record as protecting their job also, even if their employee did not want to transition. In fact, I would have liked to have seen that one person who transitioned at Dow speak for her company at the hearing. Perhaps these are a few things that people might think about at the next hearing.

One of the things that bothered me about this testimony is that it came from a corporation. I would have liked to have seen a representative from the Labor and Union sectors testify. Perhaps, someone who would speak for the vast majority of Trans people, who work below the corporate level every day might make a compelling statement. I would have liked to have heard if they have had any problems with the Transgender workforce who were lucky enough to have jobs in the trucking, construction, transportation, medical and law enforcement sectors. I would also have liked to hear them testify as the ability of the common workforce to adapt to our situation.

Now we move on to the opponents at the hearing, the first of which is JC Miller, a lawyer and partner at the firm of Thompson Hine.

I find it a good thing to look for statements in the opposition’s testimony which provide hard evidence of the way they plan their attacks, especially the legal attacks instead of the moral ones used by people like James Dobson and his fascist tribe. Ms. Miller’s testimony gave us many directions as to where the legal attacks will come from. I think that when listening to her clear testimony, we hear their important need to emphasize “fears”, if not “great fears.” That was the seed she was paid to sow.

However, we will see the primary legal attack fall into the category of “definitions.” Who are Transgender people legally? What constitutes a Transgender person to those who aren’t sure and even some who think they’re sure in our community? As she put it, “There will be problems with language and definitions.”

We all know about this slippery slope of clearly defining and putting us into boxes to break us down and play one against the other. It may come in the form of, “Well you TS’s are OK but we don’t know about these part time dressers or those drag queens.” We know that this is coming and will be thrown up as a fear just as often as the bathroom issue is. Sadly, we already have people in our own community buying into this way of thinking.

This also points to the fact that we are all in this together and we need to stay together on the issue of gender expression and identity. My friends on the Hopi reservation in Arizona have identified 32 different genders in their society. Perhaps Ms. Miller might like to find out how they define those 32 genders before she calls for the need to do the same thing about the entire Transgender Community. The Hopis seem to have worked well with them for over 10,000+ years

I am not sure about her statement regarding mannerisms. I would assume that any reference to mannerisms would include protection for effeminate males and masculine females who may not identify as being Transgender. That being the case, she tried to limit the discussion to one type of Transgender person and eliminate protections for others.

Ms. Miller moved on to “shared facilities.” A groan was heard from the audience. Her references to “carving out” a section of the legislation that will especially talk about rest rooms told a lot about her thought process. Their hot button issue of the bathrooms was debunked by Shannon Minter, showing strong evidence that this “straw man issue” had a lot of history to prove this was really a non-issue. If they can accomplish anything in rewording ENDA, it would be to “carved out” areas to provide special exemptions for religious organizations and small businesses, all to further excuse certain parties from having to deal with Transgender people in the workplace. Barney Frank has already bent to their will on this issue in both versions of ENDA.

We have given away too much already in the legislation negotiated by Barney Frank and HRC. Like Donna Rose and Jamison Green, it’s time to draw the line in the sand and not give any more ground. Next year, if the Democrats win, I hope the talk about ENDA becomes, “What are you going to put back in the legislation instead of taking more things out?” This again can refer back to the opposition’s need for definitions so they can create additional targets to “carve out” more of us.

Ms. Miller also brought up a “huge problem of notification”. Are you kidding me? Will an employer have to accept the transition of an employee one day and immediately start construction on a new set of rest room facilities the next day? This is one of the most ridiculous things I ever heard.

Ms. Miller should have turned directly to her right and asked Dr. Lawrence if that was what Dow had to do. Or she could have gone to any of the over 300 companies that have inclusive policies and have Transgender employees to ask them if they had proper notification and what happened immediately after.

Another point brought up was jurisdictional problems. The opposition wants Congress people to make sure that they pass federal legislation to not back efforts in the states to pass their inclusive laws. My big question on this is, “Why can’t we chew gum and walk at the same time?” It also reminds me of one of my other favorite sayings, “We have to fight on all fronts.”

Ms. Miller called in the reserves by bringing up “prevailing costs” even though she did not mention what they might be or what she referred to. She finally ended with the specter of “frivolous lawsuits” from things like looking through key holes in the rest rooms. Now that was really reaching. Ms. Miller’s testimony might be summarized as the introduction of “fears” to deny people of their rights. But never the less, it was informative in learning about some of their arguments.

The testimony of the next witness, Mr. Glen Lavy, Sr. Council for the Alliance Defense Fund actually made my skin crawl. It was like listening to someone arguing against the Emancipation Proclamation, the Civil Rights Act or the Americans With Disabilities Act.

I felt amused by Mr. Lavy’s fear of sitting in a room full of Transgender people and affirmed my belief that Transgender people have a power and presence that can literally make people like Lavy writhe in anger and fear. Of course Lavy sat directly next to Sabrina Marcus Taraboletti, who looked at him directly as he made his address. She had that look she got when people didn’t shut up and listen to her when she ran the Southern Comfort Conference. I think an intimidating look might be the expression that came to mind. Being a religious righter, Mr. Lavy had entered into his version of the The Twilight Zone and his presentation sounded like it.

Every point of Mr. Lavy’s testimony against us was so laden with fear that one by one, each point could have been defeated and torn to shreds by almost any Transgender person with even a little experience.

His position on employment rights for Trans people, violating the rights of employers was preposterous and absurd. Only outdone by his next statement that employers not having any means of knowing an employee’s views.

Then Lavy launched into this comparison of race and gender which left me astounded. Apparently he thinks that all Transgender people are passable and out to fool employers and make them all look like fools after they pop the big news about who they are. His argument would make you think that back before the Civil Rights Act that if an employer were to hire a light skinned African American who may have passed as white, would they have had the right to fire that person for not telling them that they were not actually white?

After that, Mr. Lavy stated that religion is not protected under Title 7, so why should Transgender people in the workplace be protected? It certainly takes a “sharp” legal mind to come up with that excuse, seeing as that freedom of religion was addressed by the founding fathers in the Constitution already. Chairman Rob Andrews took Mr. Lavy to task during the questioning phase, absolutely cutting him to shreds and leaving him speechless, defenseless and looking as stupid and prejudicial as his specious arguments.

Mr. Lavy’s flimsy statements then moved to our old friend, the bathroom issue.

We could all go on forever about the bathroom issue and we all know that this was going to be brought up somewhere in the opposition testimony, if not in more than one place. It was inevitable. His first shot across the bow was that employers cannot accommodate the rest room needs of Transgender people. My answer to that is that architects cannot seem to accommodate the bathroom needs of people who are not Transgender.

As a contractor, I know that there are certain spaces inside of every building which architects, planners and employers consider “bad space.” The bathroom ranks right up there in the category of “bad space” along with janitor’s closet and mechanical rooms. If employers had any sense – and some already do – they would probably prefer to have a single unisex bathroom, which would cut down on 50% of the construction cost for bathrooms in every project budget.

However, since we all are familiar with this argument and grow tired of it, we can finally end Mr. Lavy’s testimony with his statement (fairy tale) about a fictitious transgender bus driver in Utah whose major problem was finding a bathroom on her changing bus route because she does not have a permanent route. Mr. Lavy expected this to be a strong supportive example in his favor and I hate to pop his bubble, but this should be traceable for anyone who wants to waste the time looking for this bus driver in the Transgender community.

A lot of things made me mad about Mr. Lavy’s testimony, but the one thing that really made me incensed was that someone like James Dobson did not have the intestinal fortitude to face Congress himself. Perhaps he felt that it was below him. But I would certainly have liked to see him subjected to the same cross examination that Lavy got from the Chair after all the witnesses made their statements. In fact, Dobson is too afraid to show up at such a hearing because he knows that he would be made to look in public exactly like what he is, a pompous, arrogant, self righteous, right wing, radical, conservative, nut case. All we will hear is his constant rants from a distance.

Video clips from the Hearing here.

Audio of the entire Hearing here.

Next: Congress comes out to the Transgender Community - Part 4

“Final testimonies and Summary of the Hearings”

1 comment:

Delightfully Imperfect said...

Thank you for the summary, and for the efforts. It does appear that the bathroom issue will be one of the fronts. I never once had a bathroom issue but I understand that some people are always willing to create problems; even when no problem should exist. I touched lightly on some of the toxic religious beliefs about transsexual in my book "The Brain God Gave." Perhaps as a future project would be to do something in depth -- but I am not pursuaded that those deeply rooted in false beliefs about God would listen to sinner like me.

I thank all of you for your kind efforts and the time you have given to all transpeople. I am pleased to hear that Barney Frank has evolved from his previous postion. That alone offers hope.