Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Congress comes out to the Transgender Community - Part 2

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.

“Congressman Barney Frank and Colonel Diane Schroer”

You never seem to see Congressman Barney Frank enter or leave a room, or so it seems to me on every occasion I have seen or talked with him personally. Even sitting at the witness table, he folds his hands in front of him with his palms flatly on the table and bends over and rests his chin on them to lower his profile. But, when the time comes, Barney Frank literally explodes in your face and you know you’re in a room with a very astute and respected politician.

When called to speak, Congressman Frank (who I will refer to as “Barney” henceforth, after having shaken his hand a few times) went right into his routine of cracking a few jokes at the Senate’s expense, in connection with having to deal “with the wrong body.” It was his diplomatic attempt to leave the last thought on the failures of Congress to move the ENDA legislation through the Senate. The man is a master.

The first thing you may notice, as I did, when you see the video of Barney’s address, is that he does not have any papers in front of him. He looks directly at the chair of the committee and other committee members and he speaks less from memory than he does from his heart. There is no doubt that he understands our dilemma regarding employment problems. This is something that I have always known and trusted about him. But, like his entrance into any room, he seems to feel that maybe we can “sneak” something by others if we are patient.

Previously, Barney somehow did not feel that our problems were “ripe” enough to be solved immediately. This is where we differ greatly. The comments of the Chair in saying “The way we operate here is we don’t measure our duty by the quantity of those who are aggrieved. We measure it by the depth of the grievance that those who have been discriminated against suffer.” This was eloquently put and gives great hope for next year and any rewrite of ENDA. It made me feel like standing up and singing God Bless America.

Barney moved on to note three very relevant points. The first is that Transgender people are not protected in the workplace by any existing federal legislation. To protect them now, as in the case of ENDA, is not a duplication of effort.

Frank asked the committee to consider the premise of expanding the opportunity for all Americans to grow by accepting Transgender people freely and equally in the workplace. His example of previous anti discrimination legislation that has passed and that they were never disruptive was spot on. He pointed out that the track record for such expanding legislation allows Americans to accept people of all types, who faced the exact same complaints as would be resolved in ENDA, and always has been proven to be wrong.

Lastly, Barney’s remark on the feeling of “being uneasy”, seemed to me, to be his mea culpa for remarks regarding the rest room and shower concerns voiced by him some years ago. Therefore, I have come to the conclusion that Congressman Barney Frank has become confident enough to pierce through the fog of fear mongering and hate speech, and has finally lost his fears of being confronted by an FtM in the Congressional showers. Hurrah!

Getting ahead of the inevitable “rest room” issue and having Barney Frank address the feelings of people about being “uneasy” when it comes to Transgender people is something that he speaks well to, because it comes from personal experience. One can only imagine back in the 70’s how uneasy the first gay congressman must have made people think and act and how much he has felt that same uneasiness that we sense in some people about who we are.

This is the tragedy of ENDA and what happened to it. The Congressperson who is most experienced with our making others uneasy and being in turn discriminated against, refused to step aside and let United ENDA do its job. We need him on our side for many reasons, but it is time for him to understand that delay and denial equates to loss of lives, threats and bullying of our children and suffering for our families. Just how uneasy does a person have to feel before “being uneasy” justifies damaging the lives of others immeasurably?

It’s hard to summarize Congressman Frank because he defies summarization. He continues to work hard, surprise and delight people with his intellect and background and he seems to be far from done. In the long run, I hope that our community and he can reach a mutual understanding of each other and respect, because like this hearing that was held, he also is an important part of our history.

The testimony of Diane Schroer was off the charts in every respect. At the very end of her address to the chair, you can hear her voice cracking a bit. Sitting to the right of her I leaned forward and could tell that she was fighting off the tears. If anyone understood the historic nature of this hearing, it was Diane Schroer.

As some of you know, I used to be a Drill Sergeant. I remember when a person like Colonel Schroer walked into an area where I was, someone would always say “oh shit, stand tall”. You get the impression from Diane right away that she is not the type of woman who tolerates being told that she is “second class” in any way as compared to anyone else. The testimony that she gave at the hearing was about justice and being treated like a human being. Her past history and unimaginable service to our country only lend credence to the depth of that injustice and the same injustice that is played out every day to Transgender Americans.

Diane is a stark example of the best and the worst in our society today. She gave the very best that she could in defense of our country and in return she received the worst treatment that can be afforded a bona fide hero by one of our most prestigious and intellectual bastions of government, the Library of Congress.

Such a contrast and such a compelling situation is only superseded by Diane’s grace and courage while still under fire and having to defend herself. From the offset, she has handled her grievance with dignity and respect through the ACLU, who also seems to recognize those traits in her and the validity of her case. This is why they are helping to defend her in court.

When successful, Diane’s case can be the building block for other future judicial cases to be determined, just as Peter Oiler’s case was, although different in many ways.

The future of Diane Schroer within our community will be set by her and after she has won her case. She remained strong to win her case and has done a great job of surviving so far, unlike others who have fallen to the prejudices and inexperience inherent in their own minds. Diane is more than a survivor alone. She is an outstanding leader, who I hope will grace our cause for equality long after she has obtained her own place in the Library of Congress.

Video clips from the Hearing here.

Audio of the entire Hearing here.

Next: Congress comes out to the Transgender Community - Part 3

“The Opposition Testifies Against Us”

1 comment:

shakay said...

This article is nothing short of brilliant.

I watched the hearing on the internet, and you fully captured all of the nuances of what happened.

I was nearly moved to tears both by the comments by Congressman Frank and by Colonel Schroer.

Thank you!